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In the poem ‘Basking Shark: Achill Island’ John Deane, who grew up on the island, appears to be relating his childhood experiences through the poem. He uses language to convey both his conscious thoughts and impulsive feelings. The title of the poem is straight to the point and does not use any more words than are necessary.
Deane uses vivid imagery throughout that provokes feelings of both shock and repulsion from the reader.
He starts off by describing his location, “Where bogland hillocks hid a lake.” The use of the verb, “hid,” suggests that the speaker knows what he was doing was wrong and that he was trying to hide it from the world. The alliteration of, “hillocks hid,” further emphasises this point. The speaker proceeds to write about shooting a cat with a pellet gun until it drowned.
They are described to have, “clawed,” the pellets into its flesh.
Clawed would normally be used to describe a cat attacking something, but the tables are turned and it is the predators doing the clawing. Before the cat drowns it is said to feel, “ancient jungle fear.” This could allude back to the big cats of the jungle and the fear they would have of human hunters. By likening the tom-cat to a much more powerful beast the speaker inflates his ego, trying to make his actions sound heroic rather than sadistic.
The speaker appears to be unrepentant of his actions. It could even be argued that he felt some twisted glee from the event.
The next event of the poem describes the speaker committing yet another unsavoury deed. They, “fished for gulls with hooks we’d hide / in bread.” Again they are cowardly trying to hide their deeds, making it seem like a harmless piece of bread. Just like with the cat, the tables are turned on the gull. Normally a gull would be the predator of the water, picking up fish, but this time the gull finds itself on the end of the fishing line. The repetition of the colloquial contraction, “we’d,” implies that the speakers are immature, supporting my theory that this is a poem about the speaker’s childhood. The gulls are anthropomorphised when they are said to be, “screaming.” A simile is used in the phrase, “they sheared like kites,” where the speaker reduces the birds to mere toys to play with. Just like a broken toy, they are forgotten about as soon as the string breaks.
The tables are turned in the final event when the speaker comes into contact with a basking shark. The haughty and egotistical tone is dramatically replaced with one of foreboding and fear. The shark is given respect that the cat and gulls were not by describing it as, “great,” with, “dark and silent power.” This conveys an ominous being whose power was much greater than that of the humans in the water. Whereas the previous animals struggled and screamed in the presence of the humans, the shark simply, “glided past.”
The shark has no reason to fear the humans. It is, “half-hidden,” alluding to the previous events where the speaker hid himself before attacking the creatures. The speaker was, “stunned,” and “didn’t shy one stone.” This emphasises that he is no longer within his comfort zone and couldn’t have attacked the shark even if he wanted to. The poem is concludes by saying that deep below the surface, “silence… pounds like panic.” This combination of alliteration with a simile conveys that humans do not rule down there. The feelings of fear and doom that were attributed to the cat and the gull earlier in the poem are now attributed to the speaker instead as he meets his match.
The poem has no stanzas and frequently uses enjambment, conveying the brokenness of the relationship between man and nature. The poet also uses many semi-colons and the poem consists entirely of three sentences, giving it the form of a rambling stream of consciousness. There is no rhyme which further emphasises the lack of harmony in the events depicted. There is a fairly regular but not constant metre, with many monosyllabic words. To conclude, the poem is an extended metaphor at how easily the hunted can become the hunted, and confirms the Biblical proverb that states pride comes before a fall.
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