“Kittens” is a long poem written in free verse; its short lines are grouped into ten stanzas. It is an elegy, a poem written in grief or mourning. This poem is also a song, a lyric lament for Robert Peters’s son Richard, who died suddenly in childhood. It laments unfulfilled wishes and lost promise. The poem is generated by the boy’s wish to have kittens and his father’s wish that his son had lived to experience more of the world.
The poem begins with the kittens that finally did come to fulfill the child’s wish—after his death. They are filled with energy and life: “plump dark woolly cats/ with eyes like olives/tumbling/ on the floor . . ./ lapping up blue milk.” Only “death-day/ morning” and perhaps the milk’s tinge suggest an elegy. In addition, the stanza that follows, a finely paced account of the birth of the kittens, celebrates abundance and beginnings. The kittens, “fur wet like licorice,” “fell/ into a land of honey.” The description of the births, although precisely detailed, conveys the mystery of the event.
In stanzas 3 and 4, however, the poem moves with fortitude and resignation into the body of another mystery: death. The poet describes the breakfast conversation during which the boy expressed his wish for kittens. His last wish, however, was rejected that “wish-day/ death-day” by his father, who tried to explain about pets:
“they die.Their little toescurl up like leaves,their waxy eyes go shut,their tails hang limptheir whiskers...
(The entire section is 703 words.)