Last Reviewed on February 4, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 626
“Song” is a poem in Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s 1995 collection of the same title. It is a powerful narrative poem that describes a group of boys killing a young girl’s pet goat. Although the poem takes the form of a single stanza, there are several narrative turns throughout that lend the feel of a series of clear scenes or images from a story. Each scene stands alone but also leads into the next, as in the following passage:
And the next morning she woke to an empty yard. The goat
Was gone. Everything looked strange. It was as if a storm
Had passed through while she slept, wind and stones, rain
Stripping the branches of fruit.
Here, the empty yard looks and feels menacing. Without knowing the details of her goat’s disappearance, the girl immediately understands that something awful has happened, a strangeness mirrored by the landscape. The storm—in the form of a gang of boys—has passed through and left the yard bereft.
Just as there is no stanzaic pattern in “Song,” there is also no regular rhyme scheme. Instead, the poem relies on imagistic and tonal shifts to move the reader through. The poem also includes many examples of enjambment, or breaking the poetic line where there is not a syntactic break (such as a period or comma). This pattern also emphasizes the places where lines are end-stopped, as in the following passage:
The goat had belonged to a small girl. She named
The goat Broken Thorn Sweet Blackberry, named it after
The night's bush of stars, because the goat's silky hair
Was dark as well water, because it had eyes like wild fruit.
The strategic placement of line breaks creates propulsive movement in the poem and balances the speaker’s narrative—even occasionally plainspoken—voice. This tension underlines the combined normalcy and drama of storytelling: an ancient form and a common one, an act that can be both quotidian and dreamlike.
To further emphasize the paradoxes of storytelling and of song, the poem frequently proceeds by repetition—for example,
. . . She called
To him. All morning and into the afternoon, she called
And called. She walked and walked.
The repetition feels heavy, portentous, and itself like the refrains of a song. Here, readers feel the girl’s despair as she calls for her goat, her feet becoming heavier with each step.
The poem does not only rely on repetition within single passages; it is also framed by an echo. Near the beginning of the poem, the speaker says,
. . . Some boys
Had hacked its head off. It was harder work than they had imagined.
The goat cried like a man and struggled hard.
Toward the end, a similar sentiment is repeated with the weight of the full story behind it:
But listen: here is the point. The boys thought to have
Their fun and be done with it. It was harder work than they
Had imagined, this silly sacrifice, but they finished the job,
Whistling as they washed their large hands in the dark.
The boys’ “work,” by being referenced first near the poem’s beginning and again near its end, gains weight and meaning. The thought circles back the same way a story closes or a song repeats—that is, with the full weight of narrative behind it, the listener’s understanding of both the boys’ intended “fun” and their act’s unintended and haunting consequences. They will, the speaker says, “learn to listen” and thus realize the pain and loss they have wrought:
. . . There
Would be a whistle, a hum, a high murmur, and, at last, a song,
The low song a lost boy sings remembering his mother’s call.
Not a cruel song, no, no, not cruel at all. This song
Is sweet. It is sweet. The heart dies of this sweetness.
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