‘Pipistrelle’ by Gillian Clarke is a short three-stanza poem about hidden messages. Clarke uses the bat to disclose to the reader the internal battle the character seems to be struggling with. The character in the poem is trying to tell herself and the reader that the relationship she is in right now has gone cold and she does not see a future for it. ‘Pipistrelle’ is a perfect title for this poem because the main form of communication for a ‘Pipistrelle’ (or a bat) is echolocation which is a form of communication that cannot be understood by humans, so it is a form of a secret language; a secret language (hidden meanings)is what the character in this poem is using to tell her story.
The first stanza of the poem introduces the main character of the poem: the Pipistrelle (bat). The first two lines paint an image of a beautiful dusk sky that is surrounding a scene of plum trees. Starting a poem with the word and the idea of “dusk” lets the reader know that this poem will not be focusing on the bright beginning of someone’s life, but rather the darkness that is creeping in. The word “unwinds” further implies a story will come apart in the context of this poem. Keeping the content of the first line in mind, the second line carries the thought into a scenery of plum trees. It is important to notice that Clarke did not simply mention the trees alone but specifically their stems; this brings the reader’s attention to the core of the tree, allowing the reader to understand that the dusk that is unwinding is affecting the “stem” or core of the life that is present in the scene.
Line three introduces the Pipistrelle by calling it a “subliminal messenger”. The Pipistrelle is a subliminal messenger for the most obvious reason, its use of echolocation; this is what bats use to be able to “see” and because it is out of a normal humans hearing range it basically becomes “subliminal”. The introduction of the bat as a subliminal messenger brings to reader’s attention that it is very possible that they could quite possibly find subliminal messages throughout this poem; it could even imply that Clarke is hinting for readers to look for hidden messages in the poem. Line four exposes that she is watching the sky as though it were a “screen” and she takes notice of the bat in the sky. Lines five and six conclude the stanza on a very cool note as Clarke describes the coming of the night especially on her “house walls”. This imagery could suggest that she feels the coolness of the end of a relationship touching her home.
The second stanza opens with a line that links back to the idea of hidden messages from the previous stanza. “We love what we can’t see”, suggests that the character is struggling with her emotions, and has finally come to the conclusion that we as humans fall in love with ideas or images that we haven’t personally experienced. We seem to love the thrill of the unknown and the dream of something better. It is true that people tend to fall in love with that they can’t see: ideas. Even in relationships, it is not the person you fall in love with, but the idea of them that you have built-in your mind based on your understanding of that individual.
Line eight states an “illegible freehand”, relaying that the message is unclear. The message could be relating back to the bats, that their patterns and behaviors were illegible for the character or it could be talking about the character’s personal relationship and suggesting that their communication is messy. Line nine continues the train of thought and discloses that the messy writing “fills” every page, probably describing that the “messy” communication in the character’s relationship has caused it to infect the rest of their connection and friendship. The tenth line finally directly mentions the couple by stating that they are sitting together after midnight. There is a coldness that is resent in this line that portrays an emptiness or unhappiness. The idea spills over into lines eleven and twelve confessing that they sat there till their fire was out and cold and their “bottles empty”. Again this depicts an uninviting scene of two people who may be sitting together physically but are in two different worlds mentally and emotionally. The words “ashes cooling” also could have the meaning of the fire in their relationship has turned to ashes that are now cooling as they sit there at dusk, “emptying” out what they had “bottled” up inside them for so long.
In stanza four of ‘Pipistrelle’, the scene shifts to the bats again and describes in detail a dead bat. The first line of this stanza begins with a box. This is significant because it gives off the air to being trapped and stuck in. the line also introduces the bat as a mouse look alike. Obviously, she is looking at a dead bat in a box that reminds her of a mouse. Lines fourteen and fifteen go on to describe that it is the size of her thumb and has dull wings that have veins imprinted on them like “webs of silk”.
Line sixteen is very significant because it exposes the state of affairs for the bat and the woman. “a small foreboding” suggests that seeing the dead bat was like a premonition for her that her relationship truly was over. Obviously, something bad had happened to the bat and that is why it had died, but her being in the situation in which she got the chance to see this bat up close and examine it after its death gave her the feeling that it was a bad sign in her life. Because the bat was physically very small the character takes it as a small warning or sign that things are not looking so good for her, because the bigger signs were present in the way things were looking so cold and empty in her relationship.
Lines seventeen and eighteen conclude the stanza with the imagery of paper-thin wings that told the story of the bat. Because of the silent situation of her relationship or even life the character sees the veins on the wings almost as writings, telling the story of the bat; Just as she would expect the psalms telling their stories in the bible, on fragile thin papers.
The final stanza of ‘Pipistrelle’ speaks great volumes about the character. Line nineteen depicts a rose flattened out in a book, causing the readers to assume that she once found her relationship beautiful, and used it as a bookmark in her book of life. She had put the rose there for a reminder of the beautiful memories it held. Lines twenty and twenty-one suggest that the character is talking about something much more substantial than a dried rose. The last two lines of the poem discuss being able to see or read “your future in the fine print”; this is quite telling of the story.
Through the fine print of this very poem, the reader is able to see glimpses of her life and the struggles of her relationship. The character herself seems to read the fine print of the situation and tell that her future is going to be very different from what she had once imagined. She no longer sees the opportunity and potential of a spark in her relationship. She believes that things have cooled down to a point where they have become distant from each other, so distant that even when they are physically sitting together looking at the same sky, they are reading separate messages.