The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Philip Levine’s often anthologized “Animals Are Passing from Our Lives” consists of six stanzas of four lines each. The first stanza is a discrete statement of self-description, followed by five stanzas that express the thoughts of the speaker in anticipation of the termination of the speaker’s existence. A mood of mordant irony is established from the start as the reader learns from the speaker’s self-portrait that the poem is an expression of the flow of consciousness in the mind of a pig destined for slaughter. “It’s wonderful how I jog/ on four honed-down ivory toes,” the pig proclaims, both contradicting the common perception of a pig as merely gross and clumsy, while introducing an element of reflective awareness that challenges the concept of animals as dumb beasts that lack, as William Shakespeare called it, “discourse of reason.” The tension between the standard image of a pig and the sensitive, socially attuned speaker creates an intense kind of energy that illuminates the pig’s predicament and introduces a strain of poignancy that evokes a degree of sympathy beyond the natural sadness of an animal’s death.

After the personal introduction, the pig tersely asserts its situation in a blunt factual statement—“I’m to market”—and then anticipates a fateful inevitability by projecting with a sensory vividness the smell of the “sour, grooved block,” the “blade” and the “pudgy white fingers” that constitute...

(The entire section is 513 words.)