What is the theme and setting of the poem "Bats"?

The setting in the poem "Bats" is Florence, Italy, on a terrace close to the Ponte Vecchio bridge. The theme focuses the reader on the speaker's description of how much he detests these creatures.

Expert Answers

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First ensure that you understand the concepts in the directive.

What is the setting of a poem? According to Merriam-Webster, setting is "the time, place, and circumstances in which something occurs or develops" and "the time and place of the action of a literary, dramatic, or cinematic work."

What is a theme? Merriam-Webster defines it as “a subject or topic of discourse or of artistic representation.”

To determine the setting, examine the poem for key descriptive words and consider the biographical influence of the poet’s circumstances when writing the poem—if this information is available. Lawrence’s poem contains key words relating to the location of the poem and the time of day included in the description. Consider the first eight lines of the poem in which the speaker give key geographical references: “Pisa”, the “mountains of Carrara,” “the tired flower of Florence is in gloom beneath the glowing / Brown hills surrounding,” “under the arches of the Ponte Vecchio,” and “Against the current of obscure Arno.” These references describe the setting as being in Italy, specifically Florence. The speaker is near the Ponte Vecchio bridge, which is a closed segmental arch bridge spanning the Arno River.

Of further significance is the first line, “At evening, sitting on this terrace,” which places the context at a specific setting in time. Connect this to the poem’s title, and the significance is apparent. Bats start flying about in the evening, and this is what the speaker in the poem is considering. The speaker describes how the swallows—birds which he admires—fly around the buildings. He suddenly realizes that instead of swallows, he has in fact been observing bats flying about. This realization brings with it an intense loathing for the bats.

By determining the focus of the poem, you are a step closer to determining the possible theme(s) present.

The title directs the reader’s attention to the theme: bats. Also consider the use of “Pipistrello!”, which is Italian for “bat.” This connects the setting, Italy, with the focus of the poem, bats. The focus in the description of these bats specifies the theme to be the speaker’s dislike of the bats. The speaker states this dislike with strong words like “disgustingly” and “disgusting.” Comparing the bats to “old rags” further emphasizes this disgust. The speaker does not seem to have any particular reason for this disgust—apart from the appearance of the bats themselves.

At first, when they are thought to be swallows flying around, the description of the evening seems quite idyllic. Once the speaker realizes they are bats, the “uneasy creeping in one’s scalp” occurs. The speaker explains that in China these creatures are considered “a symbol for happiness” but “Not for me!” is the speaker’s final emphatic statement against the bats. The thematic focus of the poem is then the bats and the speaker’s seemingly unfounded dislike for these creatures.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on August 10, 2020
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