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“The Bull Calf” by I. Layton and “Tulips” by S. Plath Essay

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Updated: Feb 11th, 2022

“The Bull Calf” by Irving Layton tells a story about a newborn bull calf who is deadly sick; therefore, he has to be put to sleep by its owner. The poem shows a great dramatization of the bull’s death as the author introduces the human’s conscience that keeps haunting a person for the blame of killing an innocent animal. The logic of a person’s action was justified by the fact that the bull calf will bring no profit to the farm. “No money in bull calves”, therefore it must be killed immediately.

The poem mentions a great fear that the bull calf has in his eyes as the cold-hearted farmer strikes the animal with “the ponderous mallet” until it is dead. As the author depicts the young bull’s helplessness – “the thing could barely stand” – and at the same time, it has already formed dignity, “he still impresses with his pride”, Layton condemns the farmer’s decision to kill the animal.

“Tulips” by Sylvia Plath is an emotional poem of a woman who has just experienced surgery and is now recovering from the thoughts of death swirling around in her head. It has “achingly vivid imagery and unrestrained fervor that was Plath’s trademark” (Kwai). A reader can feel the emotion of fear and uncertainty throughout the whole poem, as the writer enhances the feeling of anxiety with the symbol of tulips that torture the woman. This atmosphere of a hospital room allows her to detach from the outside world and be untouched by anything. She feels as if there were nothing more to her than her feelings.

These two poems have many similarities in their context, yet they are entirely different in the sense of feeling and presentation. Both poems reflect the matter of death, but in completely different ways. In “The Bull Calf”, death is perceived by the image of a newborn calf who is cruelly killed by the farmer, whereas in the “Tulips”, a woman thinks about death as something freeing. She is unsure about whether to accept death or to face a painful recovery and return to her previous life.

Such opposing perspectives make readers think about how different each person is and how contrasting their opinions towards life can be. Layton shows the person’s life perception as a God who can dispose of any living creature. Contrary to the Plath’s philosophical approach when every person is just a pebble in this world, “I am nobody,” she says, realizing how many people pass through this hospital room, and she faces the anxiety of death. Therefore, even though the poems have a similar theme of death, they have two completely different perspectives of perceiving it, making them almost unrelatable to each other.

In terms of structure, “The Bull Calf” by Irving Layton and “Tulips” by Sylvia Plath are very alike. Both of the poems have no rhyme scheme, which makes a more significant impact on the reader by its already hard theme. The tone in Layton Irvin’s poetry is rather violent and unsympathetic, whereas Sylvia Plath writes her poem in a somewhat worried and at the same time indifferent way. Plath decides to ignore the integration of regular rhythmic, metric, or other prosodic rules. The poem is written in free verse, which is also applicable to “The Bull Calf”. The poets’ decision to incorporate free verse into their works is explained by the fact that such form increases the feeling aspect of a reader and brings them to the core idea of a poem.

Both poets expertly choose words to develop a specific tone of gloom and deadly atmosphere in their works. Such terms as “numbness in their bright needles” and “lie with my hands turned up and are utterly empty” used by Plath create an intimidating feeling. The same can be said about such phrases as “his frightened look, growing smaller and smaller” or “the ponderous mallet” in Layton’s poem. “Tulips” is filled with vivid imagery.

Each stanza progresses rapidly from the peacefulness of a hospital room to the unbearable presence of loudly bright tulips, which mortify the woman. As for “The Bull Calf”, the author uses visual and dynamic imagery, it makes the reader imagine and relive the heartless process of killing the bull calf. The author’s visual imagery enhances the feeling for the heroes of the poem and creates a horrifying murder scene atmosphere.

In conclusion, both poems, “The Bull Calf” by Irving Layton and “Tulips” by Sylvia Plath, have a similar theme and author’s approach to the structural details; however, the points of view and tones of two poems significantly contradict. One can conclude based on these two poems, how conflicting can be the views and perceptions on two subjects that are so close to everyone.

The Child Who Walks Backwards” by Lorna Crozier

The poem “The Child Who Walks Backwards” explains the story of a boy who is constantly abused by his mother. This message is implied through literary instruments such as repetition, wording, and structure. Crozier’s poem is an excellent example of society’s reluctance to see the things around them and a sign of inattentiveness towards others. The poem also demonstrates the inability of a community to look deeper behind the surface to see that people are endangered, especially when it comes to children.

“The Child Who Walks Backwards” is a powerful poem that presents unobstructed views regarding child abuse. The poem tells a story about an abused child whose mother justifies his wounds by the same phrase that “he walks backwards” into fireplace grates or a bedpost. Eventually, a neighbor’s suspicion starts to rise; however, no action is taken. A neighbor takes the mother’s words as the sole truth, unable to see obvious things.

To create a sense of suspense, the poet uses oxymoron’s as a critical device throughout the stanzas. The abstract “and plummet like a wounded bird/ down the flight of stairs/ This child who climbed my maple” represents the contradiction of two phenomena. To enhance the abusive atmosphere inside the family, oxymoronic lines are intensified by repetition, which makes it evident that the mother is indeed held accountable for the son’s injuries.

Another literary device Cozier uses to intensify the theme is metaphors; it helps the reader to see the doubt in the narrative’s mind regarding the constantly bruised kid. In the quote: “Cupboard corners and doorknobs have pounded their shapes into his face”, a sign of doubt in the mother’s words start to cross witnesses mind. Common sense overrules, and the neighbors realize the hard reality of the boy’s life, which is full of abuse from his mother. All the excuses for “walking backwards” into things become absurd, and metaphors help explain the awful injuries a child receives from his mother while she lies to those who surround her with no sense of shame.

Overall, the poet uses a strong literary device to help the reader understand the central theme of the poem and to engage in it fully. The main message of this poem is to create an open discussion about child abuse and make people realize how severe such a behavioral model can be. It also provokes people not to be ignorant and be attentive to their surroundings because they can be the only ones who can genuinely help.

Work Cited

Kwai, Isabella. “The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company. 2017. Web.

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"“The Bull Calf” by I. Layton and “Tulips” by S. Plath." IvyPanda, 11 Feb. 2022, ivypanda.com/essays/the-bull-calf-by-i-layton-and-tulips-by-s-plath/.

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IvyPanda. "“The Bull Calf” by I. Layton and “Tulips” by S. Plath." February 11, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-bull-calf-by-i-layton-and-tulips-by-s-plath/.


IvyPanda. 2022. "“The Bull Calf” by I. Layton and “Tulips” by S. Plath." February 11, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-bull-calf-by-i-layton-and-tulips-by-s-plath/.


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