‘‘The red sides of beef retain some of the smelly majesty of living’’.
This mentions its colour and that it is dead, but also an aspect that it once lived in great splendour, and he has respect for it.
Hughes also zooms in on characteristics of the pig:
‘‘Such weight and thick pink bulk set in death seemed not just dead.’’ There is alliteration and tripling of the ‘k’ – ‘thick pink bulk’ which makes it stand out more and so makes us concentrate more on these particular words. It also makes us feel that the dead pig is now nothing and it has no importance – it is just some ‘bulk’, worth no sympathy at all.
Both poets describe the death of their animal, but in very different ways. Hughes says that the ‘‘gash in its throat was shocking, but not pathetic’’. So he is saying that the ‘‘gash’’ was appalling, but still he feels no pity towards it. He also says that the pig was ‘‘too dead to pity’’. He can’t feel sorry for it. This makes us now feel sorry for the pig, and saddened that Hughes has no feelings towards the death of an animal.
Heaney also describes the death in a grim and shocking way:
‘‘Pull his neck, pluck him’’.
Here there is repetition of the ‘p’ – ‘pull’, and ‘pluck’. These are harsh sounds and is done to make the death seem very careless and heartless and to make us feel sympathy towards the turkey. Also, Heaney addresses the animal with respected – he calls the turkey ‘him’ and ‘his’ rather than ‘it’, as Hughes does. This is to give the effect that Heaney shows great admiration towards the creature, and that it is worth pity and respect.
The styles of both poems are similar. Neither of them rhymes – which gives the impression that the poets have no definite control over their thoughts and feelings. Also the structure is the same. They both have four lines to each verse – it has a specific pattern.
They both also have a section of narrative in them, but what they are about differs. Heaney tells of his memories of when the turkey was alive, and that he once ‘‘complained extravagantly’’ in an ‘‘overture of gobbles’’. He ‘‘lorded it on the claw-flecked mud’’. The use of onomatopoeia on ‘gobbles’ reminds us that the turkey did once have life in it, and could think for itself. When remembering the mud the turkey walked on, he goes into extreme detail, to show us that he cared as he paid great attention to a common part of the turkeys’ life. Hughes also included some narrative in his poem, and like Heaney, concentrates on when the pig was alive. He talks about ‘‘a greased piglet’’ that he tried ‘‘to catch’’ at ‘‘a fair’’ once, and it was ‘‘faster and nimbler than a cat’’. Although Hughes says one good, positive quality about the pig, generally he makes it sound like it was only there for his pleasure and delight, and nothing else. Hughes didn’t really pay any great attention to the detail of the pig because he didn’t care, neither did he feel sorry for it. This is another contrast between the two poems – Heaney cared about the death of the animal, and Hughes didn’t care at all. He was more worried about ‘‘how it could be moved’’ and the ‘‘trouble of cutting it up’’. To Hughes, the pig was a trouble and a problem, and just another chore. His attitude towards the pig makes us pity it even more.
Both poets compare their dead animal to something else that is lifeless. Hughes says that the pig was ‘‘like a sack of wheat’’. And Heaney says that the turkey was like a ‘‘skin bag plumped with inky putty’’. The poets use these similes to make us focus more on that bit of text, and to remind us that the animals are dead and lifeless, and so make us have greater sympathy for them.
There is a great difference between the two endings. Hughes ‘‘stared at it a long time’’ – we wonder why, and think that maybe now he does pity the pig slightly. Then he mentions what will happen to it afterwards:
‘‘They were going to scald it, scald it and scour it like a doorstep’’.
This final line really makes us think. There is repetition of ‘scald’, as if Hughes is transfixed and confused of his feelings about the pig. In the simile when he compares the pig to a ‘doorstep’, he is reminding us once again of what they both have in common: cold, hard, and dead. Hughes leaves us empathetic towards the pig, and confused at his feelings, whether he still doesn’t care, or if he does now pity it. It leaves us in wonder.
Heaney on the other hand is more straightforward about his feelings towards the turkey. He tells us of the ‘‘bleak Christmas dazzle’’. He uses opposite words here to give it the effect that he is saddened at the thought of a turkey being killed for someone to eat. Also he changes his use of words. At the start of the poem he says ‘one’, but now he makes it more personal, and says ‘I’. Heaney tells us how the turkey ended up:
‘‘The proud wings snapped, the tail-fan stripped down to a shameful rudder’’.
This last sentence is harsh for something so beautiful. Also there are a lot of ‘s’ sounds – ‘snapped’, ‘stripped’ and ‘shameful’. This makes it sound very evil and ruthless. Heaney has made it sound like this to show his strong feelings towards the turkey, and to make us have sympathy for it.
In conclusion I feel that both poems are successful at making the reader pity the dead animal, but they do it in very different and interesting ways. The poets use effective techniques like similes, and repetition to highlight certain points that they want to stand out and draw our attention to. I have no particular poem that I prefer and like better – they are both different, but both very good and effective.