This essay will show how the tradition of animal poetry is present in both ‘The Otter’ by Seamus Heaney and ‘The Mower to the Glow-worms’ by Andrew Marvell. This essay will portray this by comparing and contrasting the poetic techniques used in these poems.
Firstly, Heaney’s poem is what one would call free verse as it has no rhyme or metrical rhythm, whereas Marvell’s Poem is in a sense more traditional as rhyme, a metrical rhythm called an iambic tetrameter, and an alternating rhyme scheme consisting of ABAB CDCD EFEF etc, are all present. All of which are very typical in animal poetry. Both poems are written in quatrains. Heaney’s poem has 7 quatrains whereas Marvell has 4. In terms of formal differences, they are very similar. Marvell chose to lay out his poem like this as he was born in the 17th century (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography) when this was a traditional way to write poetry. Heaney writes in this form to connect with the tradition of poetry in an unconventional way as usually rhyme is an important part of traditional animal poetry however, there is no rhyme present in Heaney’s poem. There is, although, a good flowing pace in his poem, possibly referencing the elegance of the swimming otter woman.
Secondly, this essay will compare the way the animals are represented in both poems. In Marvell’s poem, there are real animals, the poet is directly referencing the animals he observes when he is out mowing. He does this to show the point he is getting at in the poem, where the light that the glow-worms give off is not nearly enough to bring him ‘home’ as the home is with Juliana. Heaney’s poem, on the other hand, is more of a conceit. He uses words that could suggest both animal and human. An example of this would be ‘smashing crawl’ which would suggest an animal whereas “swimmers back and shoulders” (Heaney, Muldoon (1998) suggest human in this case a woman which is assumed to be his wife. A conceit is very popular among the tradition of animal poetry. John Donne uses this in a similar way in his poem ‘The Flea’ (Donne, Brown (2019) as both Heaney and Donne use their conceit to portray their sexual themes and love throughout their poems. Brown (2019) describes conceits as ‘far-fetched’; conceits are meant to be ridiculous and use comparisons that the reader would not expect. A similarity connecting both Heaney and Marvell’s poems is the way they view the animals, both poets have a fondness for their animals used in their poems, they see them as majestic and are a sight to behold. Heaney feels this both about his love and the otter. Another animal present in Marvell’s poem is a nightingale who is perched on a tree branch tweeting in tune to which the poet refers to singing. The glow-worms give light to the nightingale to perform. A nightingale can also be another word for a good singer this might be what the poet is referring to when he says ‘Her matchless songs does meditate’ this could be suggesting that nobody could match that of a nightingale’s voice, however, ‘matchless’ could also mean in the sense of without a match this could suggest she is alone which the poet notices and sympathises with her as he also feels alone as he is not with Juliana giving ‘matchless’ (Marvell, Muldoon (1998) a double meaning.
Thirdly, the use of metaphors is predominant in both poems however, they use them in very different ways. Marvell uses metaphors to exaggerate or get his point across, how bright the light of glow-worm really is comparing it to ‘comets’ and ‘lamps’ both natural lights like stars and fire. Comets in his day were referenced as a sign of foreboding, he also references this in his poem when he says ‘Ye country comets, that portend No war, nor prince’s funeral… Than to presage the grass’s fall;’ (Marvell, Muldoon (1998). This depicts that he sees their light as majestic as a comet itself however does not come with the same warning which was believed to come with a comet. The glow-worms are only there to signal the mowing of the grass. Also, where he uses “home” (Marvell, Muldoon (1998), this is not in a literal sense he is not saying he cannot find his house where he lives, but more emotionally in his heart, his home is with his love who we presume he can not be with her, either because it is unrequited love or they have parted. In Heaney’s poem, he uses an extended metaphor of an otter to represent a woman. He cleverly intertwines these metaphors to make you think of an otter as well as the women he loves. He clearly is very fond of both otters and his wife which is why it works so well. He even directly refers the women to the otter saying ‘otter of memory’ suggesting she is swimming gracefully in and out of his memories. At one point in the poem, however, it seems like he is watching an otter in his memories which might be why he can compare them so well because he has observed an otter swimming, we see this when he says ‘plunged’ … ‘wet head’ this paints a picture of the otter he observes jumping in the water then coming up to the surface. ‘Wet head’ (Heaney, Muldoon (1998) suggests an animal characteristic because if he were talking about his wife, he would have used a human characteristic like hair.
Lastly, the use of repetition is used very sparingly in both poems. We see this at the start of Marvell’s poem he uses the word ‘ye’ to open every stanza, bar the last one, where he uses ‘your’ for effect because he is directly addressing the glow-worm by calling them by their names instead of a comparison to their light. ‘Ye’ gives the impression that he is talking about an object such as the “comet” (Marvell, Muldoon (1998) however then switches to a more possessive pronoun which suggests he has started to see the glow-worms as more than just their light, but even suggest that they are lending their light to the mower. ‘to wandering mowers shows the way’. This technique is called anthropomorphism, giving the glow-worm human emotions. In Heaney’s poem, there is little repetition. ‘This year and every year since’ (Heaney, Muldoon (1998). He used this to stress that he has thought about this memory a lot and suggests that he has been with the woman for many years. This is a very clever way of using repetition as it is the only one present in the poem which means it sticks out and it has a double meaning.
In conclusion, the tradition of animal poetry is present in both “The Mower to the Glow-worm” by Andrew Marvell and “The Otter” by Seamus Heaney. Both use poetic techniques to effectively show the tradition being used however Heaney’s poem is less traditional than Marvell’s poem as there is no rhyme scheme or metrical rhythm unlike Marvell’s who hosts all of these.