The Bull Calf” by Irving Layton – Poetry Analysis

Appealing to the sentimental nature of mankind has over the years proven a worthy asset for poets seeking to relate a moving account. Such is the case in Irving Layton’s “The Bull Calf” that seeks to explore a rather controversial matter; the innocence of animals under our care. In particular, the author seeks to explore the deaths of these animals by introducing a speaker whose conscience continually haunts them owing to the death of an innocent animal. The author makes use of a plethora of literary devices to dramatize the poem while also ensuring that the thematic contents of the poem are communicated. Imagery, for instance, is efficiently used to enable the reader to understand the desperate nature of the situation: “growing smaller and smaller/till we were only the ponderous mallet/that flicked his bleeding ear” (Line 22). The author also organizes the poem in such a way that the stanzas represent a deterioration of the conditions at hand, ultimately culminating in the calf’s demise.  The author, therefore, allows the reader’s emotions to follow the order of events, showing little emotion at the beginning but, later on, expressing his humane side. Finally, the speaker turns around and weeps painfully as recorded in the last stanza as an indication that the author had finally come to terms with a future full of possibilities cut short. Moreover, the use of symbols in the poem is meant to bolster the speaker’s notion that the calf is just but an innocent animal. The bull calf represents the sheer innocence present in any young soul. Death thus symbolizes this abrupt loss of innocence in the most brutal of ways. The author also makes use of allusion to signify the disaster that would strike the calf. His use of Richard II foreshadows a certain ever approaching demise for the innocent calf.


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