‘The Gun’ by Vicki Feaver is a thirty line poem that is divided into stanzas of varying lengths. They range from one line up to six or seven. It is clear from the start that the shorter stanzas and the single lines are meant to catch a reader’s attention.
For instance, the first two lines bring attention to what a gun can do to a household. The phrase cuts off unnaturally, after “house.” This technique is known as enjambment. It forces a reader down to the next line, prolonging the conclusion and emphasizing the final two words, “changes it.” In this case it also makes the situation seem somewhat foreboding. “Change” could refer to anything.
The other short section of the poem, line twenty-three, is also attention grabbing. It provides an answer to how a gun changes a home, it brings it “alive.” It is impossible to keep from questioning the place of guns in homes, especially after reading Feaver’s disturbing descriptions of violence. You can read the full poem here.
Summary of The Gun
‘The Gun’ by Vicki Feaver tells of the changes that came over a relationship after a gun, shooting, and then hunting were introduced to a household.
The poem begins with the speaker telling the reader how the listener, “you,” brought a gun into the home. At first the speaker and the listener were unsure about its presence. It sat on the table like some dead creature Its shadow crept out over the colourful table cloth. Eventually the listener gets involved in hunting. This person fills up the fridge with dead animals and loses all regard for wild life.
It appears as though the speaker is condemning this behaviour but that final stanza reveals that she is in fact revelling in it. She loves the way it reenergizes the household and makes her feel as if death is all around them.
Analysis of The Gun
In the first lines of this piece the speaker begins by making a short statement about how a gun changes the atmosphere of a place.
Bringing a gun into a house
She does not give any further detail in these first two lines, leaving a reader to temporarily consider for themselves what the “changes” could be. The presence of the gun might increase a general feeling of safety in the house or the exact opposite. Residents might dwell on its location, worrying about their own well-being.
The first full stanza, containing seven lines, begins with a second person statement. She refers to “You” who brought the gun into the house. The listener put it “on the kitchen table” and it sat there like something dead. Although it is inanimate, and even in this simile appears dead, there was something lifelike about the object. It has an inherent sense of danger around it, just like a wild animal would. These lines cast the gun in a negative light. One should be afraid of its presence.
In the next lines Feaver uses a variety of adjectives to describe the gun and how it appears on the table. The “stock” is made of wood and the barrel is ”metal” and “long.” It sits in stark contrast to the “green-checked cloth” on the table. She also states that it casts a shadow on the coloured cloth, as if the negativity associated with the object is leaching out into the house.
Lines 10 -15
The next stanza is shorter with six lines. An amount of time has passed since the gun was first brought into the home and the listener has not shied from it. This person was not as fearful of the weapon as it seemed like they might initially be.
They take it outside and learn to shot by aiming at “tins.” Over time, as the person’s skills become more advanced, the tins are “perforated” with holes. They make an interesting sight, hanging from “orange string” in the garden. The speaker describes them almost as if they are decorations. A stranger might see them and think that the owners of the land hung them for another reason. This is the first hint that things are not quite as they seem. The speaker’s opinion on the gun is in question.
The narrative becomes more complicated for the speaker when she recalls how the listener moved on to shooting a rabbit, “clean through the head.” This is a brutal and merciless image. The animal was killed quickly and seemingly without internal conflict on the part of the shooter, or so the speaker portrays.
The imagery in the text gets darker in the next set of lines. The rabbit was only the beginning. Soon enough the,
[…] fridge fills with creatures
That have run and flown.
The speaker makes sure to take note of the fact that these animals were once alive. They were individuals and had agency in the world that allowed them to run and fly as they pleased. One should not assume this means that she is against the actions of her partner.
A few changes have come over the listener as well. Now their hands “reek of gun oil / and entrails.” They also have lost any regard for life. Their feet frequently pass overtop of “fur and feathers” as f they aren’t even there. The speaker concludes this section by relating the new “gleam” in the listener’s eye to when they first started having sex.
The gun has provided this person with a new outlet to express uncommon emotion. The speaker believes that these impulses are new and are entirely connected to the gun and its creeping shadow.
The final lines begin with another short statement,
A gun brings a house alive.
This is a very unnerving thing to say after the previous stanza filled with dead animals and merciless killing. It also marks a change in the reader’s assumption of the speaker’s tone. At this point one becomes aware that the speaker is not afraid of these changes in the listener, she relishes them. The house is alive in a good way. She too has a new light in her eye. It inspires her to cook frantically, as if “the King of Death” is on his way to their house to “feast.” She too is taking pleasure from the killing.
This redefines the previous stanzas. When it seemed like she might be condemning the listener’s behaviour she was in fact celebrating the change and the way it has reenergized their relationship. The last lines are quite interesting. She describes the King of Death and what his approach up to their home would be like. His mouth would be black and within it, “golden crocuses.” From the darkness of death comes a light that can be celebrated, at least in the speaker’s world.