Galway Kinnell

Saint Francis and the Sow by Galway Kinnell

‘Saint Francis and the Sow,’ a poem from Galway Kinnell’s collection Mortal Acts, Mortal Words (1980), explores the spiritual beauty inside each creature that is needed to be retaught and retouched for spiritual growth.

‘Saint Francis and the Sow’ is written by Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Galway Kinnell. In this poem, Kinnell explores the concept of “self-blessing.” For describing this concept, he uses the “bud” as a symbol of inner beauty. Sometimes, a bud may bloom or die unnoticed. But, its beauty remains intact. The poet hints at this beauty and tells readers to cherish this divine quality present in every creature.

Saint Francis and the Sow by Galway Kinnell


‘Saint Francis and the Sow’ by Galway Kinnell describes how self-blessing helps the soul to flourish again and understand its worth.

The speaker of this poem refers to the “bud” in the very first line. According to him, it is the source of all things. Some buds may bloom while others do not. No matter whether a bud reaches completion or remains dormant, people need to notice its worth. A simple touch of pure love and appreciation can help it to bloom in fullness. To illustrate this idea, Kinnell alludes to the story of Saint Francis. He once touched a sow (swine), appreciating its loveliness. Then, the creature started to milk fully.

You can read the full poem here.

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-11

The bud

stands for all things,


it is lovely

until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;   

Galway Kinnell’s poem ‘Saint Francis and the Sow’ begins with reference to “The bud,” which is a symbol of beginning. According to the speaker, it symbolizes all things. It represents each living creature that is stunned before fulfillment. A bud may bloom or not; it is still a beautiful creation of nature. Humans tend to ignore the fact that it has the ability to bloom.

If a living being has stopped before its prime, it is possible that it lacks “self-blessing.” So, the speaker tells readers that everything flowers from within, inspired by self-belief and self-love. We need to recognize our worth. In this way, we can reap fullness.

According to the speaker, it is necessary to reteach loveliness to the bud that stopped growing. We need to touch its brow with appreciation. Then, it should be retold that it is lovely. There is so much power in “self-blessing” that it helps the bud to flower again.

Lines 12-23

as Saint Francis

put his hand on the creased forehead


sucking and blowing beneath them:

the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

These lines of ‘Saint Francis and the Sow’ allude to the story of Saint Francis. He is best known for the practice of oneness and all-embracing love. In the story, St. Francis is seen touching the creased forehead of a sow. Then he told her in words that it was beautiful. He touched her body and told her that she had the blessings of earth.

Then, the sow started to remember her self-worth. She could feel how beautiful she was. Be it her thick length or muddy about, each part of hers is beautiful. The poet uses a metaphor in the next line, “the spiritual curl of the tail.” Here, the circling tail of the sow is compared to a divine symbol.

After being inspired by the words of St. Francis, the creature felt a magnificent force running through her spine down to her “great broken heart.” This spiritual force filled her with milk that spurted and shuddered through her teats. Her piglets sucked the milk to the lees. In this way, the sow could feed her little ones again.


Kinnell’s ‘Saint Francis and the Sow’ is a free-verse poem. There is no regular rhyme scheme or meter. The text consists of a total of 23 lines that are grouped into a single stanza. Kinnell does not divide the poem into specific stanzas. But, readers can find a shift of subject matter in the 12th line. From this line, the speaker describes the story of St. Francis touching a sow. Besides, the length of lines is not regular. The contraction and gradual expansion of lines create a beautiful flow inside the text.

Literary Devices

Kinnell makes use of the following literary devices in his poem ‘Saint Francis and the Sow’.

  • Enjambment: It occurs throughout the text. The poet uses this device to connect the lines internally and maintain the flow of the text. For instance, the first four lines are enjambed.
  • Repetition: There is a repetition of the term “flower” and “flowers” in the first few lines meant for the sake of emphasis.
  • Anaphora: This device is used in lines 7-8. The usage of this device emphasizes the speaker’s point.
  • Personification: In this poem, Kinnell personifies the “bud” as well as the “flower” and invests them with human attributes.
  • Alliteration: It occurs in “spininess spiked,” “blowing beneath,” etc.


What is the poem ‘Saint Francis and the Sow’ about?

Galway Kinnell’s ‘Saint Francis and the Sow’ is about the concept of “self-blessing.” It describes how one can achieve fullness by understanding their worth. Sometimes, we need to be reminded of how beautiful we are.

What is the meaning of ‘Saint Francis and the Sow’?

This metaphorical poem describes a bud’s story which fails to bloom. A touch filled with the warmth of love and appreciation helps it to grow into a flower. Through this story, the poet tries to highlight the fact that every creature is beautiful in its own way. Sometimes, others have to remind them of their worth.

What is the theme of ‘Saint Francis and the Sow’?

This poem taps on the themes of self-love, self-blessing, appreciation, and sympathy. The main idea of the poem revolves around inner beauty and self-worth.

When was ‘Saint Francis and the Sow’ published?

The poem was first published in Galway Kinnell’s poetry collection, Mortal Acts, Mortal Words. It was published in 1980.

Similar Poems

The following poems explore the themes that can be found in Galway Kinnell’s poem ‘Saint Francis and the Sow’.

You can also read about these inspirational self-love poems.

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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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