‘Jungian Cows’ by Penelope Shuttle is a humorous poem about swiss farmers and their cows. The poet presents the simple annals of Swiss rural people. The local taste along with the episode of the farmers dressing as their wives for milking the cows is interesting enough. The poet also alludes to the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung and his works in her poem. The reference has a deep meaning and the title ‘Jungian Cows’ is also significant concerning the overall subject matter of the poem.
This poem, in the guise of a simple story of the Swiss farmers and their cows, says something more. There is a depth in the poem that lies hidden from the surface. However, the story of the poem is simple. The Swiss farmers have a close relationship with their cows and they call the cows by different names. Generally, their wives milk the cows. If they are busy with household work, the husbands dress as their wives and milk the cows. They use milking machines to get milk. Humorously, the cows’ ignorance about the mischief and ironically, the mechanical approach of men towards their cattle in modern times, are significant aspects of this poem.
You can read the full poem here.
‘Jungian Cows’ contains a total of five stanzas. The first two stanzas have four and three lines respectively. Whereas, the third stanza contains five lines and the last two stanzas have six lines each. Being a modern poem, there isn’t any specific rhyme scheme in the poem. However, the poet uses some occasional slant rhymes to create a sense of rhyming in the poem. Otherwise, this poem is in free verse.
The metrical structure of the poem is also unconventional. There isn’t a pattern in its metrical scheme. However, the poet uses the iambic meter and anapestic meter mostly in the poem. She uses those meters for maintaining the flow of the poem. The lines of the poem are prosaic as if the poet is telling a story to the readers. Apart from that, the poet interestingly intermixes short lines along with long lines without breaking the internal rhythm of the poem.
The poem doesn’t contain too many literary devices. However, the poet uses some interesting poetic devices in the poem but not indulges in overusing those. The main literary device of the poem is enjambment. As a poem of modern literature, the sense of the lines gets expressed totally by the use of this literary device. Apart from that, the poet uses personification in the first stanza of the poem. In the following stanza, the poet uses an anticlimax in the phrase, “busy with child or book”.
In the next stanza, the stalled cows “rebel and sulk” after seeing the milking-machines. It is an example of personification. Here the cows appear like the working-class men who are showing discontent against the rise of machines. There is a transferred epithet or hyperbaton in the line, “the woman’s impatient skillful fingers”. In this line, the woman is impatient as well as skillful in milking the cows. The poet uses a personal metaphor in the phrase, “cool soft folds”.
She uses alliteration in the phrases, “his head” and “sweetheart’s Sunday-best”. In the last stanza, there is an important simile that presents the essence of the poem. The poet says the “disguised man” is like “an echo of the woman”. The invisible borderline of gender or the difference between a male and a female fades away in this comparison. Lastly, the “traditional climax” is a metaphor for the Swiss tradition of milking cows.
Stanzas One and Two
In Switzerland, the people call their cows
to milk the most sensitive cows.
The poem, ‘Jungian Cows’ talks about the traditional milking of cows in Switzerland. The poet introduces the Swiss cows grazing the pastures at Bollingen. Their names are also interesting. Those cows in the poem are named “Venus”, “Eve”, “Salome”, and “Fraulein Alberta”.
In the next stanza, the poet introduces the main subject matter of the poem. The poet says, when the farmer’s wife is busy in household works, the farmer wears his wife’s skirt to milk the most sensitive cows. As the wives are skillful in milking, the cows trust them. Even the sensitive ones feel relieved if the farmer’s wife is there. For this reason, the farmer disguises himself in his wife’s skirt to milk the cows.
Stanzas Three and Four
When the electric milking-machines arrives,
feminine and shy among the cows,
In the following stanzas, the poet illustrates the cows’ reaction after the arrival of the milking-machines. They hate the mechanical touch on their sensitive parts. However, machines destroy the sweet relationship between a farmer and his cows and transform the tradition into emotionless commerce.
The poet says, if the wife fails to get any milk, the husband uses the machine to draw out milk anyhow. To build an illusion of trust he dresses up as his wife and gets the job done. The description of the farmer’s makeover is humorous enough. The humorous effect reaches its climax in the last line of this stanza.
till the milk spurts, hot, slippery and steamy
their breath smelling of green, of milk’s sweet traditional climax.
In the last stanza, there is an admixture of feelings of both sadness and joy. The cow’s “lowing, half-asleep” depicts the defeat of innocence at the hands of deceitful men. There is a sense of happiness as the Swiss tradition of milking cows somehow continues.
The arrival of machines in the rural scene creates complexity in the poem. It eases the process of milking but destroys the bond of love between cows and humans. Apparently, the machine acts as an antagonist in the simple lives of the cows.
Penelope Shuttle refers to the famous Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung by the title of the poem. But, there isn’t any direct reference to him in the body of the poem. At first hand, it seems that the poet might be referring to the same origin of both the cows and Carl Jung. On the other hand, the fading distinction between males and females in the poem might be a reference to Jung’s concepts such as synchronicity, the collective unconscious, and the psychological complex. The poet uses the cows’ collective mind to present those ideas. Hence, the poem is named, ‘Jungian Cows’.
Penelope Shuttle mainly talks about the Swiss tradition of milking cows humorously in her poem, ‘Jungian Cows’. The following poems are similar to the themes used in this poem.
- The Cow by Ogden Nash – In this poem, Ogden Nash describes a cow with interesting language.
- Afternoon with Irish Cows by Billy Collins – In this poem, Collins throws light on the interior lives of cows.
- Muliebrity by Sujata Bhatt – The poet presents a simple story of a young girl and the cows in this poem.
- Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins – There is a metaphorical reference to the cows in this poem by Hopkins.