E Eugene Field

The Duel by Eugene Field

‘The Duel,’ one of the best-known poems of Eugene Field, tells the oddly amusing tale of the gingham dog and the calico cat.

The Duel by Eugene Field Visual Representation

‘The Duel,’ also known as ‘The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat,’ is regarded as one of the favorite Eugene Field poems by readers of all ages, from children to adults. It was first published in his 1894 collection, Love-Songs of Childhood. One of the poems written about a fabled pair of felines named “Kilkenny cats” inspired this poem. Eugene Field is best-remembered for the vast wealth of children’s verses he gifted to us. Some of Field’s delightful poems for children include Wynken, Blynken, and Nod,’ ‘Little Boy Blue,’ ‘Christmas Treasures,’ ‘The Sugar Plum Tree,’ and ‘The Rock-a-By Lady.’

The Duel
Eugene Field

The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
'T was half-past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Nor one nor t' other had slept a wink!
      The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
      Appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat.
            (I was n't there; I simply state
            What was told to me by the Chinese plate!)

The gingham dog went "Bow-wow-wow!"
And the calico cat replied "Mee-ow!"
The air was littered, an hour or so,
With bits of gingham and calico,
      While the old Dutch clock in the chimney-place
      Up with its hands before its face,
For it always dreaded a family row!
            (Now mind: I'm only telling you
            What the old Dutch clock declares is true!)

The Chinese plate looked very blue,
And wailed, "Oh, dear! what shall we do!"
But the gingham dog and the calico cat
Wallowed this way and tumbled that,
      Employing every tooth and claw
      In the awfullest way you ever saw—
And, oh! how the gingham and calico flew!
            (Don't fancy I exaggerate—
            I got my news from the Chinese plate!)

Next morning, where the two had sat
They found no trace of dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole that pair away!
      But the truth about the cat and pup
      Is this: they ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!
            (The old Dutch clock it told me so,
            And that is how I came to know.)
The Duel by Eugene Field


Summary

‘The Duel’ by Eugene Field is a humorous poem about the violent fight that occurred at one midnight between the gingham dog and the calico cat.

The narrator of the poem has not personally seen the cat and dog fight. He narrates what he learned from the old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate, which were there in the room that night, where the duel took place. It happened between the gingham dog and the calico cat, who sat at the midnight hour side by side on the table. Suddenly, with utter violence, the dog went, “Bow-wow-wow,” with all its might and the cat went, “Mee-ow.” Latching onto each other, with their fierce teeth and claws, they ate up each other. People made up a different story of the absurd incident that actually took place that night. If the Dutch clock and the Chinese plate were not there, the narrator and readers would never know about the outcome of the tense cat-and-mouse fight.

Structure and Form

Field’s ‘The Duel’ consists of four stanzas. Each stanza contains a total of nine lines with a set rhyme scheme. The stanzas begin with a set of three rhyming couplets. The seventh line rhymes with the first two lines. The last two lines, form another rhyming couplet. Therefore, the overall rhyme scheme of the poem is AABBCCADD. In each stanza, the last two lines are within brackets. Here the narrator keeps reminding the readers that he was not physically present during that duel. He shares what the Dutch clock and the Chinese plate told him.

Literary Devices

Eugene Field makes use of the following literary devices in his poem, ‘The Duel’:

  • Personification: One of the important figurative devices used in the poem is personification. Field personifies the gingham dog, calico cat, Dutch clock, and Chinese plate respectively. He invests them with human attributes.
  • Aside: This dramatic device is used in order to create suspense, as well as, for the narrator’s humorous commentaries on the story. For instance, in the first stanza, he asks readers, “what do you think!”, to add suspense. Similarly, he uses the device in the last two lines, as a reminder to readers regarding the fact that he was not present during the fight.
  • Rhetorical Exclamation: It is another important device that is used to convey the feelings of the poem’s characters and that of the speaker. For example, the exclamation, “For it always dreaded a family row!”, hints at the old Dutch clock’s underlying fear of family alterations.
  • Alliteration: It occurs in a number of instances, such as in “simply state,” “Dutch clock declares,” “Wallowed this way,” etc. Field also uses consonance and assonance in this poem.
  • Imagery: In order to depict the violent duel between the cat and pup, Field uses visual, auditory, and kinesthetic imagery. For instance, the following lines depict how the gingham dog and the calico cat fought: “Wallowed this way and tumbled that,/ Employing every tooth and claw”.


Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

The gingham dog and the calico cat

Side by side on the table sat;

‘T was half-past twelve, and (what do you think!)

Nor one nor t’ other had slept a wink!

      The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate

      Appeared to know as sure as fate

There was going to be a terrible spat.

            (I was n’t there; I simply state

            What was told to me by the Chinese plate!)

In the first stanza of ‘The Duel,’ the narrator introduces the main characters, the gingham dog and the calico cat. Gingham is a lightweight plainly woven cotton cloth, checked in white and bold color. Calico is another type of cotton cloth that is plain white or unbleached. The dog and the cat were actually toys that wore gingham and calico clothes respectively.

On the night before the duel took place, they sat side by side. In any classic duel, a long silent face-to-face, eye-to-eye rivalry is a custom. The duellers performed the same before the face-off. Time went on. It was already midnight. The clock ticked half-past twelve. By using an aside, the narrator jumps into the scene asking readers what they might be anticipating.

Then comes other characters who were present in the actual scene. There was an old Dutch clock and a Chinese plate, interestingly, that could speak and react like humans. According to the speaker, they were sure of the duellers’ fate. There was surely going to be a “terrible spat.” in the last two lines, the narrator clarifies that he was not there. He can only state what was told to him by the Chinese plate.

Stanza Two

The gingham dog went “Bow-wow-wow!”

And the calico cat replied “Mee-ow!”

The air was littered, an hour or so,

With bits of gingham and calico,

      While the old Dutch clock in the chimney-place

      Up with its hands before its face,

For it always dreaded a family row!

            (Now mind: I’m only telling you

            What the old Dutch clock declares is true!)

In the second stanza, the narrator describes how the duel began. First, the gingham dog went on with a fierce, long, “Bow-wow-wow!” Then, the calico cat replied with a more fierce and shrill, “Mee-ow!” Within a moment, the cat and the fog were over one another. For an hour or so, the fight went on and the room became littered with the bits and pieces of gingham and calico, the material of the duellers’ cloth.

While they fought, the old Dutch clock which was looking at the scene from the chimney-place, held both his hour and minute hands before its face. It always dreaded such family feuds. In the last two lines, the narrator goes on to remind the readers about the fact that what the Dutch clock told him, is true. The exclamation mark at the end signifies that the narrator is also fascinated and terrified about what he heard from the Dutch clock and the Chinese plate.

Stanza Three

The Chinese plate looked very blue,

And wailed, “Oh, dear! what shall we do!”

But the gingham dog and the calico cat

Wallowed this way and tumbled that,

      Employing every tooth and claw

      In the awfullest way you ever saw—

And, oh! how the gingham and calico flew!

            (Don’t fancy I exaggerate

            I got my news from the Chinese plate!)

Not only the old Dutch clock that hid its face in fear but also the Chinese plate looked pale and blue in shock and terror. It did not know what else it could do to stop the cat and the pup. They were so engrossed in the rivalry that they might not have listened to both the clock and the plate. They went about wallowing this way and that. They tumbled over one another and employed both their sharp teeth and fierce claws to hurt each other in the “awfullest way” one has ever seen.

In the next line, the narrator exclaims how the gingham and calico flew in the air when the cat and dog clawed at each other. It is not that he is exaggerating any of the facts. His sources are solid. They were the eyewitnesses of the duel. Thus, he makes it clear that he got his news from the Chinese plate itself.

Stanza Four

Next morning, where the two had sat

They found no trace of dog or cat;

And some folks think unto this day

That burglars stole that pair away!

      But the truth about the cat and pup

      Is this: they ate each other up!

Now what do you really think of that!

            (The old Dutch clock it told me so,

            And that is how I came to know.)

In the last stanza, Field narrates the events of the next morning right after the violent duel of the previous night. When the old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate opened their eyes the next day, they could not find a single trace of the gingham dog and the calico cat. Some folks still believe that some burglars broke into the house and stole the pair away. However, none ever came to know the truth if the clock and plate were not there.

The truth is the cat and the dog ate each other up. The narrator was also shocked when he listened to the absurd outcome of the duel. For this reason, he shares his astonishment with the readers in this line, “Now what do you really think of that!” The last two lines of this stanza similarly contain a reaffirmation of the fact that he came to know about the whole incident from the Dutch clock and the Chinese plate.

FAQs

What is the poem ‘The Duel’ by Eugene Field about?

One of the best-loved poems written for children, ‘The Duel’ by Eugene Field is about the violent fight between two toys, the gingham dog and the calico cat. The face-off took place in a room at midnight. By the morning, they ate up each other, leaving no trace of either gingham or calico in the room.

Did the narrator of the poem witness the duel?

Throughout the poem, the narrator reiterates the fact that he was not physically present at the duel of the gingham dog and the calico cat. He simply states what the old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate, that were actually there at the duel night, told him.

When was ‘The Duel’ by Eugene Field written?

The poem was written during the 1890s. It was published in Eugene Field’s collection of children’s poetry, Love-Songs of Childhood (1894).

What happened to the gingham dog and the calico cat at the end?

The next morning after the duel night, none could find traces of the gingham pup and the calico kitty. According to the old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate, they ate up each other. Folks still believe that some burglars might have broken into their house and taken them.


Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed the violently humorous tale of the gingham pup and calico kitty will definitely find the following poems interesting. Else, you can explore more of Eugene Field’s poetry.

You can also explore these lighthearted nonsense poems.

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The Duel by Eugene Field Visual Representation
Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
About
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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