‘Song’ by Frank Bidart is a short poem that uses hibernation as a metaphor to explain death. It features a speaker who lures an animal into its hibernation period. The poem’s brevity and language enhance its sinister but didactic undertones, its tone reminding one of a siren’s song.
‘Song’ by Frank Bidart is a poem drawing a comparison between hibernation and the transience of existence.
The opening lines of ‘Song’ introduce the physical setting of the poem and the speaker. The physical setting is a “lair.” This stirs the sinister undertones of the poem.
With the following stanzas, the speaker paints a clearer picture as to why this setting is not safe. The speaker uses phrases like “killed enough and eaten enough” and “live at night” to describe its subject: a nocturnal animal. The speaker says to the animal to “crawl in” the lair. However, the sinister tone in the poem is heightened by their second instruction to this animal. The speaker says it is time for it to “cease to exist.” On a metaphorical note, this simultaneously portrays the speaker as Death and reveals the theme of transience.
The speaker spends the remainder of the poem coaxing the animal into the lair. On a literal note, the speaker invites it into its period of hibernation, using any alluring prospect. The phrase, “You know it is there,” appears in the first and last line as a strong point of seduction. However, “it” is never explicitly named.
By the end of the poem, the speaker exhausts their baiting points, repeating their first instruction for the animal to “crawl in” afterward. This constant coaxing in a sinister tone reminds readers of a slow siren song inviting one to their death, hence the title.
Structure and Form
‘Song’ by Frank Bidart comprises five stanzas written in free verse. The lines per stanza have an uneven length, and enjambment is heavily employed to express the speaker’s run-on thoughts. In addition, ‘Song’ uses repetition to underscore the themes of existence, rest, and eventually death. This is especially highlighted by the phrases “crawl in” and “cease… to exist.”
The poem is also written as a monologue, considering the poet’s persona addresses its subject by the name “You” throughout the poem. The voice of the subject is not heard. Despite that, readers learn of the subject’s features from the speaker’s descriptions.
- Apostrophe: This is a prominent literary device in ‘Song.’ The poet persona addresses someone with “You.” However, this character’s lack of response indicates that they are either absent or passive.
- Repetition: “Crawl in” and “cease(s)…to exist” are repeated throughout the poem. The first phrase underscores the literal representation of the poem. It tells readers that the character in question is an animal comparable to a bear. However, the second phrase highlights a literal and metaphorical meaning. When combined with the similarly repeated phrase, “for a time,” the phrase literally refers to hibernation. Metaphorically, however, it underscores the theme of death.
- Sarcasm: Sarcasm appears in stanza two in the phrase “at last killed/enough and eaten enough to be fat.” It also appears in stanza three with the phrase, “It takes talent to live at night and scorning/others you had that talent.” Both phrases reveal our speaker’s distaste for the subject of the poem as well as this subject’s generally unlikeable character. It also emphasizes a literal aspect of the poem, the description of a nocturnal animal.
- Metaphor: ‘Song’ is a poem about hibernation. However, it also underscores the death of people and even circumstances. As the poem progresses, it becomes clearer and clearer that the poem ‘Song’ is about the transience of everything.
- Enjambment: This figure of speech enables the speaker’s thought to flow from one line to another. It is seen throughout the poem.
You know that it is there, lair
where the bear ceases
for a time even to exist.
The opening stanza of ‘Song’ is enigmatic but captivating. It hints at the employment of apostrophes by introducing the speaker and an absent listener, “You.” In a way, “You” also addresses readers, thereby rendering a solid hook for the poem. The speaker also lays out the sinister tone of the poem in this stanza.
The mystery of the poem quickly mixes with an alluring uneasiness when the poet’s persona introduces words like “lair” and “bear.” The sinister tone is then made evident with the language “ceases… to exist.” While lines 2 and 3 paint a literal picture of hibernation, the successful execution of tone tells readers there is more to the poem than its literal interpretation.
Crawl in. You have at last killed
enough to cease for a time to exist.
Stanza two gives more insight into the subject of the poem whom the speaker addresses. On a literal note, the speaker describes a carnivore. Naturally, this speaker should be afraid of this carnivore.
However, the easy command in the speaker’s tone when they say “crawl in” tells readers that this speaker is more powerful than the carnivore. Added to the last line, which is a repetition from the first stanza, one can tell, on a metaphorical note, that this speaker is Death. Following the metaphor, the passage of time or life would mean nothing to Death, which is why it calls “ceasing to exist” temporary, a “process” that occurs for a time. However, the literal meaning follows the fact that hibernation only lasts for a season.
Crawl in. It takes talent to live at night, and scorning
the season when you must cease to exist.
Stanza three adds more detail to the literal interpretation of the poem. The phrase “live at night” tells readers that this carnivore is nocturnal. The last line underscores the metaphorical meaning of the poem. It highlights the passage of time and even rest. By mentioning the “season” for hibernation, it tells readers that there is a time to rest. However, the notions from stanzas one and two tell readers that the metaphorical “rest” is more permanent.
Crawl in. Whatever for good or ill
you for a time to cease to exist.
At this point, the repetition of the instruction “crawl in” feels like hypnosis. In a metaphorical and literal sense, the speaker is luring their subject, their prey, into their lair. Lines 1 and 2 literally expose the powerlessness of the carnivores. It reveals that they are naturally programmed to give in to nature. Literally, one can interpret this as nature luring this carnivore into its set hibernation period, a period they cannot resist.
Metaphorically, however, this is Death, the speaker, calling its subject to eternal rest, even if Death itself does not see it as eternal. One can compare this to a mythical siren’s song, the kind that lured sailors into the water and to their death. It is the most probable reason for the title of the poem.
It is not raining inside
The closing stanza of ‘Song’ is just as enigmatic as the opening stanza. This is because of the repeating line, “You know that it is there.” This sentence appears in the first and last line; however, the speaker never clarifies what “it” is. Clearly, this is something between the speaker and their subject, an “it” only the two know about.
In addition, the repetition of this sentence tells readers that this is a strong point of seduction. Alongside other things, the speaker mentions luring the subject into their lair, such as the lack of rain and the mysterious “it” appearing twice. One can say “it” represents a deep desire the subject does not wish to share.
By not mentioning it specifically, the speaker respects the subject’s wishes but also uses it against them, especially in the metaphorical sense. In a metaphorical sense, the lack of rain represents peace, which is indisputably a good way to make the idea of death appealing.
The tone overall in ‘Song’ is sinister. One can tell from the repetition of certain instructions like “crawl in, “even the word “crawl.” The repetition is hypnotic, almost akin to a siren. The mood is somber as well, considering the heavy themes explored through a harmless natural phenomenon: hibernation.
‘Song’ was published in the 2005 poetry collection Star Dust. This collection was a National Book Award Finalist for Poetry in that same year.
Allegorical poems often use simple narratives to elaborate on broader, often philosophical, themes. It also uses extended metaphors to reveal these themes. In that sense, one can say ‘Song’ is an allegorical poem because it highlights the theme of death using a narrative of an animal being lured into its hibernation period.
If you enjoyed reading ‘Song’ by Frank Bidart, you can check out these poems:
- ‘After Death’ by Christina Rossetti: This is a Petrarchan sonnet that, ironically, elaborates on death and the afterlife.
- ‘Death Fugue’ by Paul Celan: This is a poem narrating the treatment of Jews in the concentration camps during the Nazi War. It is told from many points of view.
- ‘Natural Daintiness’ by Salman Khan: This is a poem capturing the speaker’s peaceful moment in nature.