What is "Penguin on the Beach" by Ruth Miller about?
Penguin on the Beach
Stranger in his own element,
Sea-casualty, the castaway manikin
Waddles in his tailored coat-tails. Oil
Has spread a deep commercial stain
Over his downy shirt front. Sleazy, grey,
It clogs the sleekness. Far too well
He must recall the past, to be so cautious:
Watch him step into the waves. He shudders
Under the froth; slides, slips, on the wet sand,
Escaping the dryness, dearth, in a white cascade,
An involuntary shouldering off of gleam.
Hands push him back into the sea. He stands
In pained andsilent expostulation.
Once he knew a sunlit, leaping smoothness,
But close within his head’s small knoll, and dark
He retains the image: Oil on sea,
Green slicks, black lassoos of sludge
Sleeving the breakers in a strain-spread scarf.
He shudders now from the clean flinching wave,
Turns and plods back up the yellow sand,
Ineffably wary, triumphantly sad.
He is immensely wise: he trusts nobody. His senses
Are clogged with experience. He eats
Fish from his Saviour’s hands, and it tastes black.
Ruth Miller, a poet that lived in South Africa, wrote "Penguin on the Beach" in the late 1960's. Tragedy and despair where always at the forefront of her life. She was abandoned by her father at an early age and her son died when he was a teenager.
Some say that this work is a tragedy because it is full of imagery that the poor penguin is facing, being stuck on a oil-slicked beach and facing his own mortality, and her own despairing circumstances of the death of her son and being raised father-less.
When the penguin "shudders from flinching waves" he is facing the scary reality of his situation. Miller also shudders from the reality of her own situation, the memory of the death of her son. It also has a religious undercurrent, some say she was aware of her own impending death. She died, I think, just a few years after the poem was written.