Analyze "Beasts of England" (from George Orwell's Animal Farm) as a poem. What imagery and figurative language does it contain?
The first important fact to note is that the poem is a satire, especially of "The Internationale," a 19th century socialist anthem written to celebrate the Paris Commune. From 1914 to 1944, this song was an unofficial anthem in Russia under communism, and even after the creation of the "Hymn of the Soviet Union" remained quite popular. Given that Animal Farm is an anti-totalitarian novel dedicated to opposing communist Russia (during the era when it was communist rather than its present kleptocracy), it should not be read as an attempt by Orwell to write a good poem, but rather as a satire on what he considered the debasement of language and thought by authoritarian regimes.
The overarching metaphor is the substitution of the animals of the farm rebelling against humans in the song for the workers rebelling against the state, religion, and the wealthy in "The Internationale."
One of the most important literary elements of the poem is allusion. In its promises of an animal paradise in England, "Beasts of England" not only alludes to "The Internationale" but also Blake's "Jerusalem," which it resembles in meter as well as content. Compare, for example, Orwell's vision of the animals' struggle for an animal paradise with
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green & pleasant Land
Another important figure of speech is the repetition of such phrases as "Beasts of England." This phrase is also an example of apostrophe, or direct address.
The poem uses a loose rhyme scheme, with most stanzas rhyming ABCB except for the second six-line stanza, which uses the figure of a question-response pattern common in anthems.
A rather simplistic song with a simple melody and the lilt of speech, the song of the Rebellion, "Beasts of England" has short stanzas of four lines with the rhyme scheme of abcb. It is a catchy tune that the animals easily learn. Throughout this battle hymn, there is figurative language and imagery:
- Apostrophe - the Beasts of England are addressed in the first stanza: "Hearken to my joyful tidings/Of the golden future time." The final stanza also addresses the beasts.
- Metaphor - "the golden future," "Tyrant Man," "fruitful fields of England,"
- Personification - "Cruel whips"
- Metonymy - "Bit and spur" This figure of speech that substitutes something closely related to a thing actually meant. These metal pieces used on horses represent the controlling and cruel aspects of Mr. Jones. "Wheat and barley, oats and hay,/Clover, beans, and mangel wurzel" stand for the contentment the animals will feel.
- visual imagery - "golden future" "bright"
- olfactory imagery - "Sweeter yet shall blow its breezes"
- tactile imagery - "trod by beast alone"
In George Orwell’s allegorical novel Animal Farm, “Beasts of England” is an anthem the pig Old Major shares with the animals to rouse support for a rebellion based on Old Major’s dream for a society controlled by the animals themselves, not ruled by men. Later, Animal Farm’s leader Napoleon replaces this anthem with “Comrade Napoleon.” He bans the original anthem, claiming that “Beasts of England” is no longer needed after the rebellion has been completed. This act corresponds to Joseph Stalin’s replacing the anthem of the Soviet Union, The Internationale, with a new, more patriotic National Anthem of the Soviet Union in 1943.
Like The Internationale, “Beasts of England” reflects principles of Marxism through its imagery and figurative language. The anthem portrays an optimistic view of a “Golden future time.” When “Beasts of England” is later replaced with “Comrade Napoleon,” this represents a loss of this hopeful view of the future. The song also describes symbols of repression, which, for the animals, include nose rings, whips, bits, and spurs. Riches and plenty are represented as food—“barley, oats, and hay.” The anthem says “all must labour” in this effort, a revolutionary call to action.