The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Badger” is written in heroic couplets, its sixty-eight lines divided into five sonnet-length stanzas. Since the copy-text of “Badger” is untitled, some editors have chosen to call it “Badger” and others “[The Badger]”; it has been anthologized in both five-and three-stanza versions. The following description of the poem refers to the five-stanza “Badger.”

The first stanza of the poem gives the reader a general sense of the badger’s appearance and activities. An awkward and unattractive animal, the badger does not live in harmony with humans and domestic animals: “The shepherds dog will run him to his den/ Followed and hooted by the dogs and men.” When the woodman goes hunting for foxes, he does not see the badger’s many holes and often tumbles into them.

In the second stanza, the men and their dogs trap the badger and bring him to town to be baited. The noise of the hunt frightens an old fox and a poacher, who misfires, wounding a hare. Although the badger is reputed to be an aggressive animal, much of the violence in the poem seems to come from men, who take a sadistic delight in tormenting the beast.

The badger fights heroically in the third stanza, turning on the crowds and the packs of dogs, beating them all, even the “heavy mastiff savage in the fray” and the bulldog. Despite being relatively diminutive in size, the badger fights for hours against impossible odds, and John Clare describes the...

(The entire section is 486 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Clare’s poems are often loose in structure, catalogs of observations about nature that begin and end arbitrarily. Thus some of Clare’s editors have felt free to drop the last stanza of “Badger,” which seems to take away from the dramatic power of the three middle stanzas. “Badger” is unpunctuated, and this lack of punctuation makes it a fast-paced poem to read, with scarcely a stop (except for the line breaks) for the reader to take a breath. The fact that most lines are end-stopped allows Clare to dispense with punctuation, but he is not able to indicate midline pauses. This lack of punctuation gives the poem a spontaneous quality, as if it were being recited by the poet as he made it up, without much regard to grammar or organization. Unfortunately, many editors have chosen to punctuate Clare’s poems for him, and the editorially corrected poems seem less natural and more “literary” than the originals.

“Badger” contains relatively few dialect-words, and thus readers do not need to consult glossaries as much with this poem as they would with many of Clare’s other works. Some of the local terms Clare uses in “Badger” are “scrowed” (marked), “clapt the dogs” (set the dogs on), “dimute” (diminished), and “lapt” (wrapped or folded). Although Charles Lamb discouraged Clare from writing in dialect, Clare used Northamptonshire words and phrases in much of his verse. A word such as “scrowed” gives his poetry a...

(The entire section is 499 words.)