The objective of this coursework is to compare two poems, based on badgers, by John Tripp and John Clare. In order to do this successfully, it has been recommended that aspects such as the way the poet describes the badger, the attitude of each poet towards the badger and references to what I found effective should be covered.
Badger by John Tripp
This poem is based on Tripp’s personal encounter with a badger, during the early 20th Century.
The opening lines introduce the reader to the compassionate, gentle nature of a badger. The human stereotype of a badger is that they are ‘harmless’, and ‘loveable nocturnal things’. They appear so cuddly and cute. Teddy bears or cartoons of badgers often create this image. A badger is also being personified, when it is referred to as being ‘a family man’. A vast majority of us would assume that families are a unity that only exist in the human race. This usually consists of a husband, wife and children. It seems so very civilised. Being humans, we would consider ourselves superior to other races. Relating humans to badgers makes them seem to be a more intelligent, and a supreme race in the animal kingdom.
Some would see badgers as being rather shy and reserved. Tripp describes how ‘he has an old reputation for remaining aloof’. In some aspects, this is a positive thing. Badgers mind their own business, and do not interfere with the lives of fellow animals. It almost makes them seem hardworking. They are busy enough wrapped up in their own lives to wonder about others.
As the poem develops, the description of a badger gradually becomes more sinister, and more threatening. The first indication that something was wrong is when Tripp writes ‘ I thought he stuffed himself on insects and roots…’ The use of the past tense indicates that he used to have this opinion, but no longer does. This makes the reader curious about what made him lower his opinion of badgers.
There is reference to the badger ‘baiting him and scratching at the mesh’. Him is referring to Tripp’s rabbit. In the past, badger baiting was an extremely popular sport, and it was a frequent mean of entertainment. In society today, it is no longer accepted, as animals are treated more humanely and with more respect. Yet it would seem rather ironic that a badger would bait an animal, in this case being a rabbit. It makes the reader less sympathetic towards badgers for the ill treatment they received when they were baited. We, as the reader, are made aware that badgers are not herbivores, as most of us would assume. They are omnivores, meaning they consume both vegetable and meat products. In their natural environment, they hunt down their prey, and are designed to do so. This is confirmed when it says ‘he wanted more than a boring vegetable dish’. Tripp emphasises this, when the badger’s ‘big jaws’ and ‘bone crushing molars’ are described. The adjective ‘bone crushing’ is particularly effective as it makes one aware of the sheer power they have.
They are designed to tear flesh apart. This sends a chill down the reader’s spine, and suddenly, the badger doesn’t seem so innocent and adorable. The ‘grizzled snouter’ suggests that badgers aren’t so cuddly after all. Their snouter’ are rough and bristly, giving an unpleasant sensation to one’s hand when touched. Since my childhood, animals have often seemed to be rather comical to me, particularly badgers. ‘He scooped a hole under the boxwood hutch,’ is a typical image I have of a badger doing. I could literally visualise it speedily digging a burrow with its paws, flinging a pile of earth behind him. It seems rather hilarious to me. Yet what motivates the badger into doing this is not in the least bit hilarious.
To the bare eye, badgers may appear to be so innocuous and vulnerable, but that is deceiving. ‘…Splintered the floor with his ramming head’. I would assume that the head is one of the most fragile parts of the body. The brain is very delicate, and can be damaged easily. As it plays such an essential role in an organism, the smallest amount of damage could potentially be fatal. Yet here is the badger using his head to break through touch, strong wood. The power and strength of him is extraordinary, and frightening.
The horrific description of the death of the rabbit: the ‘string and red slippery pulp’ that was the only remains of the creature, is abhorrent. The reader feels a surge of anger toward the badger. No creature ought to die this way. Yet that is what nature is all about. There is no mercy in the jungle. The law of the jungle is rather harsh: eat or get eaten. Yet this still does justify the badger’s behaviour and actions, making it acceptable. The final sentence of the poem is rather unexpected: ‘Before a smallholder blew of his head’. Although it does not seem very funny, as it is so unexpected, one’s initial reaction is to burst out into a fit of laughter. The poem is brought to a swift end. I assume at this stage, Tripp’s thought that justice had been done, and this was an appropriate place to end the poem. In a way, it follows the clichï¿½ ‘the bad guy always suffers.
Throughout the entire poem, it is evident that Tripp bears hard feelings towards badgers. At the end of the poem, we find out why. In the opening lines of the poem, the stereotype of badgers is described, but I was under the impression that this wasn’t his view on badgers. ‘Harmless they called him’. The use of the word they indicate that the statement is excluding him. If it was including his opinion, he would have used the term ‘we’. Also, the use of the past tense suggests even the people who thought badgers were harmless initally, no longer do. The way that Tripp describes the badger makes him appear vicious. ‘…. Big jaws…. bone-crushing molars…grizzled snouter’. These descriptions all focus on the strength of the badger, and suggest that he takes advantage of it. This poem is rather bias, and it is evident that Tripp is against the badger, for what he did to his rabbit. ‘Our poor young rabbit must have died of fright’. The adjectives used makes the rabbit seem so vulnerable, and innocent. The following sentence says ‘ but not before the badger minced him, into string and slippery red pulp.’
The description of the rabbit’s death is being described and horrific, particularly when the remains of the rabbit are being described as red slippery pulp. This turns the reader against the badger, which I think was what Tripp was trying to achieve. There is also the use of sarcasm. ‘That loveable thing…’ Being sarcastic, it means that the writer thinks that the badger is exactly the opposite of loveable. The final sentence of the poem is when a small holder kills the badger. Tripp does not make any comment on what happened. If he felt that it was unjust, he would have most probably mentioned something about it. Yet he failed to do so. Therefore I would presume that he had no objections of the killing of the badger.
The vile and apprehensive description of the rabbit’s death was particularly effective in persuading the reader that badgers are not kind, gentle creatures. The one line of the whole poem than I cannot forget is ‘…the badger minced him into string and red slippery pulp.’ So generally, when discussing this poem, one of the first things I would refer to is that line, and that does not create a particularly good image of the badger. Also, the general layout of the whole poem is designed to capture the interest of the reader. At the beginning, the stereotype of the badger is given, generally describing it as a gentle creature. Yet you are aware that Tripp himself no longer agrees with this statement. The reader becomes curious why, and wants to read on. As the poem develops, the more harsh and ruthless side of the badger’s personality is revealed. At the end of the poem, the badger is killed.
From Tripp’s perspective, it would seem that justice had been done. However I do not agree. The clichï¿½ two wrongs don’t make a right could be reffered to. I don’t feel that humans have the right to judge or punish the badger for what he did. The badger was retreating, and he was of no threat whatsoever to the humans. The badger eats the rabbit. This is all part of nature. Do humans not eat animals that are below them in the food chain? I think it was rather hypocritical to kill the badger, for doing what they do too. Eating meat. By killing the badger, it didn’t bring the rabbit back to life, did it?
Badger By John Clare
This poem was written in the early 19th Century, and is based on badger baiting.
The opening lines of the poem introduce the reader to sinister activity. ‘When midnight comes a host of dogs and men.’ Midnight is often associated with crime, and evil activity. The world is asleep, and it is the perfect time to commit a crime. The presence of the ‘host of dogs’ confirms this. It seems as thought the dogs are there for protection, or to attack. They are going to ‘track the badger…’ the word track suggests that the badger is being hunted down, being a victim of these humans. The badger is described as being harmless. ‘Old grunting badger’ indicates the badger was vulnerable and weak, as he is aged. Grunting is a noise that people often make when they are wary, and fatigue. This means that the badger is not in a good state of health, and is even more vulnerable. Yet the badger is still fairly strong. ‘They let the strongest loose’. The strongest dogs were set upon the badger, as the men felt that the badger may beable to defend itself against the weaker dogs. Even though, the odds were unfair. It is impossible that one badger could successfully fight several strong dogs.
Human activity in a natural environment often causes disturbance. ‘The fox hears the noise and drops the goose.’ Foxes are intelligent animals, and perhaps he had seen hunters before, who were armed, and knew they kill animals. Being conscious of the human activity going on, the fox felt he may be attacked, therefore probably went and hid himself somewhere. The men use weapons – ‘a forked stick’ to beat the badger, and get him under control. Getting beaten by one forked stick would be painful, but getting beaten by several would result in excruciating pain and agony. The badger would already be worn out by the dogs, which attacked it. The men ‘clap’ the dogs, appraising them. They encourage them to attack the badger. It is taken to town. The reader wonders why, what do they want to do with it.
The reader in now introduced to what the men wanted with the badger. They wanted to bait him, as a mean of entertainment. In society today, it is recognized as being morally wrong, and many would think it is cruel. ‘…Bait him all day with many dogs’. The badger is being baitd for a long period of time, and dying is a slow, painful process indeed. Also the fact that the opposition is far more numerous than him makes one angry. There is so much injustice. The fight is not one on one. The atmosphere is also described as being unpleasant. ‘Laugh, and shout and fright the scampering hogs’, ‘shout and hollow down the noisy streets’ and ‘drunken swears and reels. The badger is being tormented and harrased. It is not familiar with the sound of humans, and when they make loud noises, having an emotional impact on the badger. He is being attacked in an unaccustomed place, by large dogs, who are much stronger than him, and humans, being stronger and huge in height, also having a reputation for killing animals i.e. hunters. On many occasions throughout the poem, the badger is defending himself against the crowd that oppresses him. ‘He runs along and bites all that he meets…’ turns about to face the loud uproar, and drives the rebels to their very door…’ and ‘the badger turns and drives them all away…’ drives the crowd and follows at their heels and bites then through…’ The term ‘drives away’ is used frequently.
It expresses how determined the badger is not to be beaten by these people. He does not give up, and even against the impossible odds, continues to repel and fight back. Yet he still does manage to fight the dogs when taking them on one by one. These are bulldogs that have been bred for fighting, and after going through so much pain, he can still beat them. I think he is inspired emotionally, he stubbornly refuses to give in to his tormentors. ‘The bulldog knows his match and waxes cold’. ‘By now, the bulldog is aware of the badgers strength, and that he is potentially able to cause harm to him, so is intelligent enough not to fight the badger, knowing he will lose. These dogs are describes as being ‘heavy mastiff, savage in the fray’. They have ruthless strength, but no challenge for the badger. In comparison to bulldogs, badgers look so weak, and vulnerable. ‘Though scarcely half as big, demure and small.’ Comparing the badger and the bulldogs brings out the astonishing difference there is. Even so, the badger successfully fought the bulldogs. He will defend himself no matter what, and is very strong willed to do so. The reader is proud of the badger, and envies him for having such a quality, that very few humans’ posses. This is sheer determination, and always working to his full potential.
The badger is being extremely ill treated and harshly abused. People armed with weapons and stones are attacking it, additionally to the dogs. ‘The frequent stone is hurled…’ ‘…Sticks and curdles quickly stop the chase.’ Again the harsh and diabolical treatment towards the badger is emphasised. The only weapon the badger naturally posses is his teeth, and he makes his attackers aware of this. ‘The badger grins…’ the difference between a grin and a smile, is that when someone grins, they show their teeth. The badger shows that he will use them if he is forced to, and that they are more powerful than they would think. The badger makes a desperate attempt to go to the woods, his natural environment. ‘He tries to reach the woods, an awkward race’. The woods is his natural environment, and feels he will be safe there, surrounded by his fellow animals who will support him, and surrounded by the dense vegetation, where one can easily get lost and lose one’s enemy.
The final sentences of the statement are those when the badger finally dies. It has been a slow and painful death. ‘He falls as dead and kicked by boys and men…. till kicked and torn and beaten out he lies…..leaves his hold, crackles, groans and dies.’ The badger just lost the will to fight for life, ‘and leaves his hold.’ He was severely abused before he died. The word crackles, suggests that its lungs were weak, as that is how one breathes when one’s lungs are not operating properly. It is a sad death, and the reader feels a surge of sympathy for the badger, who was tortured so much. Also, one is angry toward the humans for doing this. What right do they have? What if this was done to them?
It is evident that Clare is in favour of the badger, and against the humans and the dogs who are ill treating it. Genarlly the badger is described as being vulnerable and weak in comparason to his opponents. The badger is constantly defending himself, by ‘driving away’ the crowd. This expresses his sheer determination and mental power. He refuses to give up and let the attackers get the best of him. Generally, the badger is being described as weak and vulnerable in comparison to his opponents. He is constantly defending himself by ‘driving away the crowd’. The word defend means to protect yourself, when being attacked. Again, it refers tot the fact that the badger is the victim of the humans, who are causing both physical and emotional damage. He is only challenging his opponents in an act of self-defence. This also expresses the sheer determination of the badger. He refuses to give up and won’t let the attackers get the best of him. The comparason between the dogs and the humans with the badger always emphasis how much stronger and more numerous they are than the badger. The unjustice of this sport is highlighted. The fact that the process of dieing was extremely painful and long makes the reader sympathize with it; makes the reader agree with Clare.
There is great detail in how the dogs and men attack the dog, physically and mentally. The stenght of the weapons that they hold are clarified ‘the frequent stone…’, if Clare did not have any objections in badger baiting, he most probably would not have used the word ‘frequent’, but woulde have merly stated that stones were thrown, but only occasionally. The specific selection of adjectives and adverbs used make the reader feel any toward the badger opponents, and support the badger. At the end, the ill health of the badger, and his unsuccessful struggle for life is mentioned. It is described as being a lonely, sad death. ‘leaves his hold, crackles, groans and dies.’ The word ‘crackles’ gives the impression that the badger’s lungs were in a poor state, due to the torture that he had undergone. When ones lungs are damaged, they often do crackle. The badger was desperately struggling for life, but faced impossible odds: ‘leaves his hold’, he was clinging, holding onto life. His determination makes the reader be proud on his behalf. Clare has won the reader’s heart on behalf of the badger.
The most effective aspect of this poem is how Clare has managed to persuaded the reader into feeling sympathetic towards the badger and liking it. Also, poems that ryme seem to have the effect of drawing attention, particularly to young audience. However, I tend to find that poems that rhyme don’t have such depth in their meaning, as non ryming poems do. This may be because the poet has to adapt the words, and sentence in order to make it rhyme. So in most cases, the most suitable ajective and pronouns cannot be used, to create a certain atmosphere or impression. Yet this poem has managed to obtain both qualities. It rhymes and has a fundimental depth to it. I really appreciate the content of this poem fotr htat reason.
In conclusion, the variation between Tripp’s and Clare’s poem is that Tripp describes the ruthless and vicious side of the badger, due to what it had done to his rabbit; as a result hates it. It is somewhat ironic that Tripp’s poem is based in the 20th Century, when people had strong believes about animal cruelty. Yet Tripp does not seem in the least bit disturbed that the badger got killed. Yet, society as a whole certainly would have objected. On the oterh hand, in the 19th Century, people would have mocked and laughed at the idea of there being animal rights. There was no respect in society for animals whatsoever. Yet Clair does have respect for animals. One would expect it to be the other way around. Both poets have the ability to make the reader agree with them, and look onto the events from their prespecitve, by the use of descriptive words creating a certain impression.