Cow in Calf

Cow in Calf

In an environment familiar to a farmer’s son, Heaney reflects on regeneration.

The speaker weighs up the cow’s immense belly. The impression It seems is that, in pregnancy, she had swallowed a barrel her undercarriage: slung like a hammock from front to rear. He needs to be physical to shift a cow in her present condition from the position where she is eating. The sound of smacks administered is somehow different with a calf inside: solid, dull sounds like slapping a great bag of seed; smacks so weighty that his own hand takes the punishment, tingling as if strapped, accompanied by dull, distant echoes that plump like a depth charge/ far in her gut.

We learn of other signs of pregnancy: the growing udder resembles a wind instrument with its bagpipe’s windbag and drone, producing an accompaniment to her lowing.

Heaney reflects upon the perpetual loop of a cow’s existence: cud … milk … heats … calves.

  • A sonnet about natural birth and renewal;
  • sonnet form split 3:6:5; no rhyme scheme save in the final 3 lines lowing/ going;
  • challenging description made easy by the combination of simile and commonplace: slung like a hammock; sound memories from war-time: like a depth charge; the muted sound of underwater explosion: plumped; the repetition of again might allude to the blanket depth charging of enemy submarines in WWII;
  • a visual analogy of udders resembling Windbags of bagpipes opens musical possibilities: to drone in her lowing (the part of the instrument that provides a single continuo sound beneath the tune is called the drone;)
  • assonance occurs mainly in pairs: foreleg/ haunches; slung/ hammock; again/ again; charge/ far; drone/ lowing; one triplet: plump/ gut/ udder;
  • mainly paired alliterations: cow/ calf; barrel/ belly; slapping/ seed; hit heard;
  • similes are defined by like/ as if.