The opening stanza is clearly designed to shock the reader. The very first line provides two pieces of information which the reader is unlikely to be able to ignore: first, that the speaker is aged six during the event in question; second, that he has actually witnessed kittens being drowned. The more observant reader will also pay attention to the word ‘first’. Overall, it seems clear that this opening line is designed to convey the emotions felt by the speaker to the reader of the poem.
Another aspect of this stanza designed to shock the reader is the language which Dan Taggart uses in front of the child. He refers to the cats as ‘scraggy wee shits’ – we would not normally expect this type of language to be used within earshot of an infant, but this seems to underline the fact that the speaker is becoming acquainted with the harsh realities of life from an early age.
Heaney’s decision to place Dan Taggart’s words within inverted commas seems designed to enhance our understanding of his character – without this additional information (it is, of course, parenthesis) we would not have the same understanding of the callousness with which Taggart treats the helpless creatures. The word ‘frail in relation to the noise they make in the bucket further emphasises their helplessness. The use of direct speech also makes clear that this experience is still incredibly clear in the mind of the speaker, who is now a grown-up looking back on the incident. It is unusual for someone to remember such specifics of an incident from their early childhood, and this is what shows us just how much of an impact this experience has had.
Stanza two elaborates on the ‘frail metal sound’, with sibilance used to slow the pace, increase the sinister tone, and replicate the sound made by the kittens are they desperately try to escape from the bucket. The contrast between ‘tiny’ and ‘din’ further reinforces the desperation and vulnerability of the kittens.
The kittens being ‘slung’ onto the water pump is a continuations of the lack of care with which they are treated (see ‘pitched’ in stanza one). Readers should also note the fact that the water has to be ‘pumped’ – the use of a water pump is a physical act, meaning that Dan Taggart has to actually act to kill the kittens.
Once again, we encounter the direct speech of Dan Taggart, who this…