The Poem

Rudyard Kipling’s “The Hyenas” consists of seven stanzas, written in quatrain form. Using the hyena as a metaphor for humanity, the author compares and contrasts that wild scavenger, with its traditional reputation for slyness and cowardice, with the human animal, who only too often, according to the poet, exhibits the same vicious qualities, the same beastly characteristics. Kipling goes even further, suggesting that the actions of the hyenas, as instinctively brutal as they first appear, are more understandable and thus in reality less devious because they are readily recognized as uncivilized wild animals, unlike the human animal with its claims to be civilized and its pretensions to superior morality.

The poem, told in a relatively straightforward narrative style, begins with a burial party which, having completed its task, has left an unidentified grave site. Kites, vultures with their own reputation as scavengers, have also abandoned the field with the coming of night, and now the hyenas have entered the scene to ravish and rend the recently buried body. Neither knowing nor caring anything about the dead victim, they have come to dig up the corpse. Their only goal is food in the form of dead flesh. Kipling uses the traditional image and reputation of the hyenas as opportunistic but cowardly scavengers, who feed only when there is little threat to themselves; the beasts consume the dead as food because “the dead are safer meat,” noting that...

(The entire section is 474 words.)

Forms and Devices

“The Hyenas” is a relatively short poem written without a significant number of poetic devices. It is composed in an abab quatrain form, and the first and third lines of each stanza are longer than the second and fourth lines. The latter two lines, strongly punctuated, give the reader a periodic feeling of closure, or the completion of a statement. Although the meter of the poem is irregular, the general consistency of form and punctuation gives “The Hyenas” an easily accessible narrative line. In the early stanzas in particular, there is an almost matter-of-fact ballad quality, a characteristic that T. S. Eliot called the major defining element of most of Kipling’s poetry.

One of the few obvious literary devices that Kipling does make at least some limited use of in “The Hyenas” is alliteration. For example, in the first stanza, the phrase “burial-parties” in line 1 is linked with “baffled kites” in the following line. Later a similar use of alliteration is found in line 7—“They snout the bushes and stones aside”—which also is an interesting use of the noun word “snout” as a verb. There is more alliteration throughout the poem, but its use is never excessive nor obtrusive. There are some archaisms in Kipling’s choice of words—“shewn” and “ere,” for example—but “The Hyenas” could not in any way be described as an obviously “poetic” poem.

Of the seven stanzas that make up “The...

(The entire section is 546 words.)