By spending so much time reading about the insect’s life, readers are likely going to feel close to it. This is despite the use of personal pronouns of any kind. Finch uses short lines and stanzas that ensure the reader moves quickly through the lines and gets as much detail as quickly as possible.
Explore The Insect
‘Insect’ by Annie Finch is a complex, image-rich poem that describes an insect’s will, appearance, and alludes to its broader existence.
Throughout this short poem, the speaker uses hyphenated compound words, like “orchard-legged” and “wedge-contorted” to describe an insect. They never state what kind of insect this is or exactly what it’s doing while they’re watching it. But, from context clues, it seems likely the insect is hunting its prey.
You can read the full poem here.
In the first stanza of ‘Insect,’ the speaker begins providing the first of several interesting words to describe an insect. It’s “hour-glass-backed” in the first line. This is fairly easy to imagine image, one that should bring to mind a clear shape. As the lines progress, things get more complicated. The insect is also “orchard-legged.” This could bring to mind the winding and gnarled branches of orchard trees or perhaps another specific image.
It’s in the third line that the insect is personified for the first time. It has a “heavy-headed will.” This is another curious description. It might make one wonder what it is about the insect that makes the speaker feel this way. Perhaps how it continually goes after what it wants? It might be persistent in a way that the speaker admires.
savage—dense to kill—
The next lines make the imagery even more complicated and interesting. The insect is also “paper-folded” and “wedge-contorted, / savage […]” These lines are likely going to bring to mind different images for different readers. It might be reminding the speaker of the shapes of folded paper and the way it can be contorted into different shapes. The word “dense” in the third line is another interesting choice. “Savage” and “kill” also stick out as darker, more intense words that evoke a more dangerous side to the insect.
pulls back on backward-moving,
The third stanza describes the insect’s movements, perhaps as it’s preparing to kill its prey. It arches back on “backward-moving” and high, arching legs. This is a very evocative section of the poem. It’s easy and compelling to imagine this movement and what it might entail.
Stanzas Four and Five
lowered through a deep, knees-reaching,
carpeted as if with skill,
The following stanza adds in more detail about the same movement. It lowers down, bending to its own will as is focusing on its intended prey. It is hard to read these lines separately from the previous and following stanzas. The poet’s style works as stream-of-consciousness writing, with words flowing freely, and sometimes without clear definition between one thought and the next.
The last line of the fifth stanza rhyme with the last of the fourth (as it does with the final line of the poem).
Stanzas Six and Seven
tracing, killing will.
The final stanza is only two lines long and is a rhyming couplet. It provides two more compound words that define the insect before the final line reminds readers of its “killing will.” It’s focused, sober, ready for anything. Its will is leading it towards one final action that does not occur within the lines of the poem.
Structure and Form
‘Insect’ by Annie Finch is a seven-stanza poem that’s divided into six tercets, or sets of three lines and one final single-line stanza. The lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern, and they range in length from one word up to six. Despite the lack of structure, there are numerous literary devices at play that help to make this poem feel cohesive and unified.
Throughout ‘Insect,’ Finch makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sounds at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “back” and “backward-moving” in stanza three.
- Caesura: can be seen when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line. There are several examples in this short poem. For example, “lowered through a deep, knees-reaching.”
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three of the second stanza and lines two and three of the fourth stanza.
- Imagery: is one of the most important literary devices at work in ‘Insect.’ It occurs when the poet uses especially effective descriptions. These are meant to trigger the reader’s senses, helping them to imagine a vibrant and interesting event, scene, feeling, etc. For example: “paper-folded, / wedge-contorted.”
The meaning is that insects live complex and interesting lives. It would benefit human beings to pay closer attention to the ins and outs of their existence, it might even teach one something about how humanity behaves.
The tone is curious and excited. The lines flow quickly with one adjective following the next with very little pause. This helps maintain a hurried pace and keeps the reader interested in what’s going to happen next.
It’s likely that Annie Finch wrote this piece in order to celebrate the nature of an insect. Although it’s never clearly stated which insect she’s thinking about, the text provides a great overview of how these creatures live their lives.
The speaker is someone who is very interested in the lives of insects. They’re patient as is seen through the detailed descriptions of the insect’s movements and appearance. They’re likely someone who cares about creatures of all shapes and sizes.
The themes in ‘Insect’ include an appreciation for the natural world. The poet spends the poem using language that elevates the insect’s simple actions and relatively simple existence.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Insect’ should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘The Fly’ by Ogden Nash – is a short poem in which the speaker speaks amusingly about a fly and how it is perceived by most people.
- ‘Ode to a Butterfly’ by Thomas Wentworth Higginson – a thoughtful meditation on nature’s one of the daintiest creations, the butterfly. Higginson glorifies this tiny insect by using several metaphors and symbols.
- ‘The Spider and the Fly’ by Mary Howitt – describes the entrapment of a silly fly who gives in to her own vanity and loses her life to a cunning spider.