“Bat” by D. H. Lawrence is a 1923 poem about a flock of Florentine swallows that turn out, on closer inspection, to be bats.
- As the sun sets over Florence, the speaker takes in a serene view of the Ponte Vecchio over the Arno river.
- There are swallows flying through the air, and the speaker admires their movements.
- The speaker slowly realizes that the swallows are actually bats, and this fact fills him with disgust.
Last Updated September 6, 2023.
“Bat” is a poem in free verse by English poet and novelist D. H. Lawrence. It originally appeared in his 1923 collection, Birds, Beasts, and Flowers. True to its title, the collection largely consists of poems that center around specific flora and fauna while exploring broader themes. In this sense, “Bat” is an exemplary piece from this volume.
In the first of the poem’s many short stanzas, the tone is peaceful and serene. The speaker sits on an Italian terrace looking west, and the sun sets over the mountains of Carrara, marking the end of the daylight. The final line hints at a change in tone, suggesting that a surprise is to come.
In the second stanza, the speaker notes that he is in Florence, which he likens to a wilting flower. The flower is “in gloom” and surrounded by brown hills.
In stanza three, the light begins to change, and the speaker starts paying closer attention to the sky. To the speaker’s eye, the changing light appears to move as though swimming against the current of the nearby river Arno under the Ponte Vecchio, a famous Florentine bridge.
In the fourth stanza, the speaker begins to notice creatures in flight. Initially assuming them to be swallows flying above in the dusk, the speaker observes that they look like they are “sewing the shadows together” with a giant spool of thread.
In the fifth stanza, watching the creatures fly, the speaker notes the deftness of their movements against the background of the Ponte Vecchio’s architecture. They circle and pivot, swooping down into the river and back up again.
In the sixth stanza, the speaker puzzles over why the swallows are flying so much later than usual. In stanza seven, which reads just one word—“Swallows?”—the speaker uneasily answers the question raised a moment before: the birds are probably flying so late because they are not birds at all.
In the eighth stanza, the speaker describes the creatures as “dark air-life.” No longer swooping in gentle arcs or graceful parabolas, the creatures above “twitch,” “twitter,” and “shudder.” The speaker begins to focus on the more menacing elements of their anatomy: their wings are “serrated” like a knife, their ungainly bodies resemble graceless black gloves flung haphazardly into the air to obscure the light.
In the ninth stanza, the reluctant speaker finally acknowledges what he is seeing above: not swallows, but bats. In stanza ten, the speaker’s experience of the creatures above shifts. In an instant, they transition from birds to bats—a changing of the figurative guard, set against the dramatic backdrop of the Ponte Vecchio.
The speaker’s encroaching fear is amplified in the eleventh stanza as he begins to experience physical manifestations of anxiety. He experiences an unsettling sensation in his scalp as he observes the bats flying “madly” and swooping threateningly over his head.
The twelfth stanza begins with the exclamation “Pipistrello!” This is the Italian word for “bat,” and it punctuates the speaker’s frustration and surprise. With distaste, the speaker describes the bat’s shape and sound through further metaphors: a piper playing a pipe, a “little lump” flying through the sky with a deliberately vindictive voice.
In the thirteenth stanza, the speaker likens the bat’s wings to the edge of an umbrella, where the spokes stick out of the fabric. The fourteenth stanza, just one word yet again, repeats the speaker’s now-common refrain: “Bats!”
The speaker explains, in stanza fifteen, that bats hang upside-down to sleep like disgusting old rags. In the next stanza, fixating on the imagery of hanging old rags, the speaker imagines that the bats are pleased with themselves, grinning as they hang upside-down.
The seventeenth stanza admits that the speaker’s views are not universal. In China, the speaker admits, the bat is a considered symbol of happiness. But in the final stanza, the speaker dismisses this opinion: “Not for me!”