‘To See the Rabbit’ by Alan Brownjohn is a six stanza poem that is separated into uneven sections of lines ranging in length from seventeen to five. The text does not conform to a specific pattern of rhyme, but Brownjohn has made use of a great deal of repetition. He repeats variations on questions that ask what, where, and how, one encounters a rabbit.
In the narrative of this piece, Brownjohn creates an alternate world that speaks poignantly about the future. Bronnjohn’s future world has a distinct lack of natural spaces. There are no forests, significant patches of grass, or animals, even in captivity. It is the “final” rabbit living in England that the speaker is taking a group to see. Humankind has transformed the rabbit’s existence into a theme park-like attraction that brings large crowds.
While the poet’s speaker is narrating the details of an alternate world, it is impossible to escape the parallels with our own. It was his intent through this text to bring light to the declining populations of species and the prospect of losing those which are now taken for granted.
Summary of To See the Rabbit
The poem begins with the speaker stating that “We” an undefined group or audience, is going to “see the rabbit.” His group reacts as if they are surprised, asking “which rabbit?” He goes on to explain that the final rabbit lives in a large complex on the final patch of grass.
The following lines hype up the group’s expectations for what they are going to see. This all comes to a head after they spend time traveling to the site and finding out the rabbit has escaped. He has found a way out of his enclosure and is now buried under the earth waiting to be found again.
You can read the full poem here.
Analysis of To See the Rabbit
We are going to see the rabbit.We are going to see the rabbit.Which rabbit, people say?(…)We are going to see the rabbitAnd we must be there on time.
The first stanza of this piece, which contains seventeen lines, begins with a series of repeated lines. Brownjohn’s speaker immediately addresses, “We,” presumably referring to the intended listener or listeners. He states that as a group, “We are going to see the rabbit.” This line is utilized twice, and then followed up by a question. It is clear the speaker finds these initial lines important, especially considering they are then used in the title.
The following question asks, “Which rabbit?” This inquiry comes from the “people” who make up the general audience the poem is directed at. In the next line, “the children” pose this same question. Everyone who is listening to the speaker is unsure about where they are going or what rabbit they are going to see. While these first lines present the trip simply, it becomes more complicated in line six and seven. It turns out the “rabbit” is the “only rabbit in England.”
The poem takes a darker turn in the next lines with a description of where this animal is. It is,
Sitting behind a barbed-wire fence
Under the floodlights, neon lights,
It is clear from these details that the rabbit is something of a novelty. As it is the last of its kind, it is being put on display and protected at the same time. It is an attraction and an absurd concept. The preceding questions now take on another meaning.
To increase the dark and depressing conditions of the animal’s life, the last lines of this section describe how it lives “On the only patch of grass.” This is the final “patch” in all of “England.” The speaker makes sure to add in the parenthetical statement that there is other grass “by the hoardings.”
He concludes this stanza by restating the group’s plan to “see the rabbit” and “be there on time.”
First we shall go by escalator,Then we shall go by underground,(…)And the last ten yards we shall have to goOn foot.
The second stanza contains only six lines and describes the initial movements “we” make to transit to the rabbit. First, “we go by escalator” and then by “underground,” or subway. The group travels next “by motorway” and then finally, “helicopter.” For the final “10 yards” everyone will go “On foot.” A reader should first take note of the use of enjambment in the final two lines of this section. It is as if the thought of walking, even ten yards, is strange and shocking.
The speaker has taken the audience along with him through a variety of different means of transportation. It is clear that it is quite a production to see this rabbit, a fact which adds to its magical nature.
And now we are goingAll the way to see the rabbit,(…)And bands and banners,And everyone has come a long way.
Within the third stanza, the speaker describes how they are “nearly there.” They do not have much farther to go before arriving at “the rabbit.” He states that the whole group, “We,” have a deep “longing to see it.”
It turns out, as one might expect, that there are “thousands” of people also “longing” to see this novelty. The huge crowds make “mounted policemen” necessary to maintain control. The scene is a chaotic one. Throughout the crowd, there are “loudspeakers” and “bands and banners.” Everyone has traveled a great distance to see the rabbit and want to make the best of their experience.
But soon we shall see itSitting and nibbling(…)Why is everyone jostlingAnd slanging and complaining?
The speaker teases the audience about what they are soon to see. There will be the little rabbit, “Sitting and nibbling / The blades of grass.” These simple actions, which to a reader will seem mundane and without much meaning, are completely unknown to the audience.
About halfway through this stanza the narration changes. A huge, initially undefined, event has occurred around the rabbit. The speaker himself is highly charged, and asks desperately,
Why is everyone so angry,
Why is everyone jostling
And slanging and complaining?
Clearly something unexpected has happened, the day is not going to go like the speaker initially described.
The rabbit has gone,Yes, the rabbit has gone.(…)And what shall we do?What can we do?
In the fifth stanza, the speaker explains what has happened to cause the crowd to react so out of character. He states that, “The rabbit has gone.” It has found a way to escape its confinement.
He has actually burrowed down into the earth
And made himself a warren, under the earth,
The speaker feels outraged by the rabbit’s actions. He sees it as having acted out by and leaving its proper place. The final lines conclude with two more questions. Having lost control of his tour, the speaker asks the audience following him, “what shall we do?”
It is all a pity, you must be disappointed,Go home and do something else for today,(…)“It won’t be long, they are bound to come,They are bound to come and find me, even here.”
The final stanza contains eight lines and addresses the disappointment that “you must” be feeling after the failed trip. He states that it is now time to “Go home” and do something else for the rest of the day. There is no possibility of seeing or hearing “the rabbit, under the earth.”
In the last lines, the speaker suggests that the rabbit is thinking quietly to himself, that he does not have “long” before “they…come.” He knows that “They are bound…to find” him, even deep under the earth.