The Mice: A Recollection
The power of poetry to lead readers to an emotional experience has long been proven by early artists. In our times, it still proves to be an effective medium to stir senses and drive people to feel passion, pain, joy, or simply to recollect the past. The poem, “The Mice” written by Brendan Galvin is one example of a poem that allows readers to reminisce past childhood experiences.
In an interview conducted by Reiter (Atlantic Flyway to Whirl is King 17), Brendan Galvin expressed his inclination to write about nature and recollection of past experiences especially of childhood. In his poem, “The Mice,” Galvin uses mice as the vehicle to suggest a recollection of childhood. Employing a unique style, he leads the readers to observe nature, ponder on the experience of the persona, then move them to reflect on their own personal experience.
To analyze a poem, one has to identify three main elements: the persona, addressee, and situation. In the poem, the persona is either a male or a female. One cannot be certain of the gender because there is no mention of it in the poem, but definitely, the persona is a much older person than the addressee. In particular, this could be a parent or a guardian. Being younger, the addressee could be the persona’s child or protégée. In the first paragraph, the persona tells of unlocking two mice from the traps, which make up the situation.
The situation described in the first and second stanzas serves as a prelude to the other situation reflected in the third and fourth stanzas. Noticeably, while the poem is written in free verse, the first two stanzas have eleven lines similar to the third and fourth stanzas when combined. However, there is slight difference in that the first half has 5-6 lines while the second half has 4-7 (number of lines).
The poem uses rhetorical devices which are not familiarly encountered in other poems. The ability of the author to do this reflects a distinct and modern style. Normally, poems use simile, metaphor, irony while in this poem, readers are introduced to some other devices such as omission, personification, anacoluthon, hyperbation, allusion, and paraprosdokian.
In the first stanza, the author omits the word “mice” in the line, “I unlocked two from traps.” (2) More than a grammatical style, this is done to make the poem sound direct, as if speaking to an addressee. The omission makes it less formal in tone, suggestive of narrating a personal experience. The mice are personified in the next lines, with focus on the way their eyes look beady, which could also mean speculative, curious, inquisitive. In addition, the mice are described as having a “sincere” look, which is another human quality. Anacoluthon, a change in the grammatical construction, is used in the lines, “their eyes looked up—beady, yes, but sincere…” (7-9) Instead of saying, “their eyes looked beady but sincere…” the author uses anacoluthon to shift the interest of the reader to the mice’s reaction and their experience, and deviate from the experience of the persona (of capturing them).
Moreover, the author also uses hyperbaton. This is the separation of words which belong together, in order to emphasize the first of the separated words or to create a certain image. Particularly, the following lines employ the use of this rhetorical device:
“Then I remembered when you
were little how I used to tell you” (12-13) and
“Dead End Kids clambering
Up the steps, in their plaid caps” (17-18)
In the first example, hyperbaton is used to highlight the word “you.” This is done to introduce a shift in the tone, from passive to active, and refer to the addressee directly. The second hyperbaton aims to focus on clambering. By separating the word “up,” emphasis on the kids is achieved more than the completion of the movement.
The device paraprosdokian or unexpected ending of a phrase or series is employed in the last part of the poem in which appears the line, “turns for the highway?” (22) This ending is unexpected because the reader somehow expects a more elaborate phrase or line to discuss about the kids who board the bus. Instead, of talking about the subject, the author prefers to end the poem with a phrase to denote the direction the bus takes. This somehow disrupts the reader’s inquiry about the subject. Nevertheless, it presents a thought that unites the third and fourth stanzas to the first and second. In other words, it completes the thought not only of the last stanza but the whole poem as well.
The last two lines, which should be devoted to giving further descriptions about the kids who board the bus, contain words that give an end to the poem. Galvin chooses to simply end the poem in this manner to maintain profoundness of the situation, and probably to avoid overt explication. The way he ends the poem makes it attain a certain degree of sentimentality especially with the use of the term, “highway.”
The way Galvin uses nature in his poem is uniquely different. He uses it as a vehicle to represent a unified experience. Unlike others who use symbols to represent things or ideas, he uses elements in the environment as a vehicle to suggest the whole theme. In particular, the persona’s experience of unlocking mice from the traps leads to a reminiscence of the past. While others could view that the author uses metaphor by comparing the mice with the “Dead End Kids” that board the bus, the representation does not seem deliberate, for it is the whole experience in the first half that leads to the second. Similarly, the term “highway” at the end is not totally representative of particular things or elements in the life of a person, but the mention of it leads the readers to ponder deeply on the notion of the highway, being a wide and long road to travel.
As mentioned, the capture of the mice leads to the persona’s reminiscence of the past. It brings back experience of youth, and other themes connected with it, such as innocence, freedom, and adventure. The persona who lets go of the mice from the traps is reminded of the past where he/she had to let go of some children, referred to as “Dead End Kids” who board a bus to a destination away from the persona.
The term, “Dead End Kids” presents the author’s use of local color and theme. Capitalized as such, it takes reference from the famous group of children from New York, who became famous in the 1930s. Although the identity of the children compared to the Dead End Kids is not fully established, the use of the term suggests that the kids referred to are inhabitants of New York. Like the Dead End Kids, they grew up in the streets of New York. The way they are described to board the bus suggests their freedom and innocence, which in effect, moves the persona to feel nostalgic. The waving of hands at the back window further suggests the nostalgia that the persona feels.
Being reminded of the scene at the bus station, we can characterize the persona as a sentimental person. The memory of the kids saying goodbye till the bus turns to the highway create in the readers a motivation to look back at their own past, either as the persona who lets go of the children, or as the children saying goodbye. Though the relationship among them is not fully established, it would suffice to think that the persona is in close relation to the children. As such, saying goodbye to them is not easy.
The recollection of the past which stands as the central theme in the poem allows readers to understand a person’s longing to bring back past memories. By being reminded of the scene with the children, one is moved to relate to the personal experience, and to understand the complexity of life, as suggested by the highway. Aside from the experience of letting go, readers can look back at how they too, as little children, travelled through life on a bus ride. While the poem shares the motive of recollecting the past, it also moves the readers to realize how simple things could mean a lot.
The themes of recollecting the past, nostalgia, innocence, and freedom are some themes commonly used in poetry and literature in general. However, unlike other literary authors, Galvin has a unique way of presenting his subject matter. By refusing to use the objects as direct representations of things or ideas, he comes up with a better style of using his subject to give a more vivid view of the experience. Also, by leaving some issues unclear (such as the identity of the persona and addressee), Galvin succeeds in allowing some room for a thorough investigation, and a deeper reflection on the theme.
Furthermore, the author’s use of a variety of literary devices demonstrates his craftsmanship in writing poetry. By using uncommon literary devices, Galvin offers a modern style of writing poem, which relies on simple things and experiences to explain a universal theme. To elucidate, who would think that trapping mice could evoke a longing for the past? Truly, the author attempts to offer a different perspective of a personal experience. He suggests his readers that while such an activity could be messy, it could stir an important emotional experience, including memories of one’s childhood, dreams, pleasures and pains.
Galvin, Brendan. “The Mice.” 2005. The Atlantic. 5 December 2008. <http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200708/brendan-galvin-mice>.
Reiter, Thomas. “Atlantic Flyway to Whirl is King: An Interview with Brendan Galvin” Transcript. 5 December 2008 <http://shenandoah.wlu.edu/Reiter%20Interview.pdf>.