Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Analysis of "Hedgehog" by Paul Muldoon

Original poem reprinted online here: "Hedgehog" by Paul Muldoon
Originally read: June 20, 2013
More information about the Poet: Paul Muldoon

"Why start out with a snail? comparative metaphor and how to read the poem -- absurd but somewhat reasoned images."  That's the first comment past me put on this poem.  Well, I'm pretty sure from the first stanza no one could guess where this poem ends up, but it makes sense when a reader goes back to the beginning and reads the poem again.  But the comparative metaphor, the absurd, the images -- those are important aspects in this poem.

"Why start out with a snail?"  Yes, this comment is about the first stanza.  The image of the snail is compared to a hovercraft -- and although the images are surreal, the important line here is, "Rubber cushion of itself, / Sharing its secret"  The last line is the change of tempo from image to rhetoric / however, the cushion of itself blends in two concepts -- the physical and the self and here the real thread goes through.

But first, the thread of the "secret."  The next stanza focuses on the hedgehog, "shares its secret with no one."  The introduction of the "we" in the third line of the second stanza puts the reader and the speaker at the reader vantage point -- that means the speaker is inferring the metaphors and images, rather than implying.  What's the difference.  Focus and power.  The image and the rhetoric comes first, and with the statement of the speaker as part of the collective "we" then there's a tension between sides building up.

"We say, Hedgehog, come out / Of yourself and we will love you."  This is also the only time that "Hedgehog" is capitalized, also the speaker wants couples two things together -- "come out /of yourself" seems to be the equivalent to the "secret."  And exposure of the self -- we will love the exposed self.

The third stanza focuses on what the "audience" wants from the hedgehog -- to listen, to gain answers to "our questions."  A focus on the audience builds the tension as what "we" ask, the hedgehog responds by, "The hedgehog gives nothing / Away, keeping itself to itself."  The "we" wants and the "hedgehog" doesn't give.

Absurd, right?  Funny, a little.  But the kind of light tone changes with this couplet, "We wonder what a hedgehog / Has to hide, why it so distrusts us."  A direct statement that questions intent.  Also there is a shift from "the" to "a."  Something specific to more of a generalization.

The last stanza ties in another metaphor to the situation:

     We forget the god
     under this crown of thorns.
     We forget that never again
     will a god trust in the world.

So the direct jab to the Christian mythos of "crown of thorns" (Jesus/god) and the last line of "will a god trust in the world" has some power through the rhetoric.  But note that this powerful statement doesn't have a strong sentiment behind it; rather the opposite.  The claim is made through loose visual association, and, to me, the lines come off as a light philosophical pondering brought on by the absurd images rather than a pounding of a statement.  Musing versus statement.  "We think..." vs "We know..."


  1. It is interesting to see this poem analyzed by a poet, especially by a non-poet (me). I am a retired university professor (sociology, criminology, forensic science, and ethics) and, for the past 18 years have been operating a nationwide nonprofit hedgehog rescue. I have cared long-term for nearly 400 hedgehogs during that time with our population usually ranging between 30 and 50. Looking at Muldoon’s collected works, it does not appear that he is especially interested in hedgehogs, but, of course, has had the benefit of being around them in nature in his home country, Ireland. The hedgehog is unusual as a wild animal for several reasons. First they are among the very oldest live-bearing mammals on earth, having hung out with dinosaurs, and second, among virtually all wild animals, they do not flee or attack at the approach of a human, but simply roll into a ball of protective quills if made nervous. I thought so much of the poem that I used it as the frontispiece of Volume 1 of my “Hedgehog Chronicles” titled “The Gathering: Secretly Saving the World,” which is a metaphorical series on the ethics of warfare featuring hedgehogs. To me, knowing hedgehogs as I do, the poem resonated with a number of issues long considered (back to the Greek lyric poet Archilochus – c. 680 to c. 645 BCE) by humans in the hedgehog-human relationship. The so-called “hedgehogs dilemma” (Schopenhauer and Freud) concerning the problems of intimacy only adds to the mystery of these defensive animals that have somehow survived ice ages. They are, at once, zany yet predictable; defensive yet endlessly curious; affectionate but sometimes aggressive. So, to an experienced hedgehog caretaker, the startling end to the Muldoon poem makes absolute sense. Con cordiali saluti, Z. G. Standing bear at The Flash and Thelma Memorial Hedgehog Rescue, Inc., in Divide, Colorado, USA

    1. I am writing an essay on this poem for my English class, and this really helped! Thank you!