'St. Francis And The Sow' by Galway Kinnell

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Mortal Acts, Mortal Words1980The bud
stands for all things,
even those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as St. Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl ofthe tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths suckingand blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

Editor 1 Interpretation

St. Francis And The Sow by Galway Kinnell

Have you ever come across a poem that speaks to the depths of your soul and leaves you feeling connected to the world in a profound way? That's the kind of experience that Galway Kinnell's "St. Francis And The Sow" offers.

As a literary work, "St. Francis And The Sow" is a masterpiece that speaks to the complexities of the human experience, the beauty of nature, and the profound connection that exists between all living beings. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve deep into the poem and explore its themes, symbols, and language to understand why it has become a classic in modern poetry.

The Themes of "St. Francis And The Sow"

At its core, "St. Francis And The Sow" is a poem about compassion and empathy. It speaks to the idea that we are all connected, and that our actions towards other living beings have an impact on the world around us. The poem is framed around the encounter between St. Francis and a sow, but it is really about the relationship between all living beings.

One of the central themes of the poem is the idea of redemption. The sow in the poem is described as "slopping along in a stye" and "with big wallowing eyes" - she is a symbol of suffering and despair. But when St. Francis approaches her, he sees beyond her outward appearance and recognizes her inherent worth and dignity. He shows her compassion and love, and in doing so, he redeems her from her suffering.

Another theme that runs throughout the poem is the idea of interconnectedness. St. Francis recognizes that he is not separate from the sow, but that they are part of the same web of life. He sees the beauty and value in all living beings, regardless of their outward appearance or circumstances. In this way, the poem speaks to the importance of recognizing our place in the world and treating all living beings with kindness and respect.

The Symbols of "St. Francis And The Sow"

One of the most powerful symbols in "St. Francis And The Sow" is the figure of St. Francis himself. As a Catholic saint, St. Francis is known for his love of nature and his compassion for all living beings. In the poem, he represents the best of humanity - our capacity for empathy, our ability to see beyond outward appearances, and our connection to the natural world.

The sow in the poem is also a powerful symbol. She represents suffering and despair, but also the potential for redemption and transformation. Through the kindness and compassion of St. Francis, she is able to move beyond her suffering and find a sense of peace and beauty in the world.

Another symbol in the poem is the idea of mud. The sow is described as "slopping through the spring mud" and the poem ends with the line "and the mud of the springtime/ would make the waters run/ with desire to renew/ the world." Mud is a symbol of the messiness and chaos of life, but also of the potential for growth and transformation. The poem suggests that our suffering and struggles are an essential part of the process of renewal and growth.

The Language of "St. Francis And The Sow"

One of the most striking things about "St. Francis And The Sow" is the language that Kinnell uses to describe the sow. The poem is written in free verse, which allows Kinnell to experiment with language and structure in a way that perfectly captures the sow's essence. For example, he describes her eyes as "big wallowing eyes/ looking at him/ as if she understood everything." The language is simple and direct, but also incredibly powerful - it conveys the depth of the sow's suffering and her potential for redemption.

Kinnell also uses language to create a sense of atmosphere and mood. The poem is set in springtime, and the language is full of sensory details that evoke the sights, sounds, and smells of the season. For example, Kinnell writes: "The pig in me/ and the pig in the sow/ and the sow in me/ rise up, howling in packs/ of complaint." The language is visceral and immediate, creating a sense of urgency and intensity.


In conclusion, "St. Francis And The Sow" is a masterful poem that speaks to the deepest parts of the human experience. It explores themes of compassion, empathy, and interconnectedness, using powerful symbols and language to convey its message. Kinnell's use of free verse and sensory language creates a vivid and immersive atmosphere that draws the reader in and leaves them feeling connected to the world around them. This poem is a classic of modern poetry, and it deserves to be read and appreciated by generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry is a form of art that has the power to evoke emotions, stir the soul, and inspire change. Galway Kinnell's "St. Francis and the Sow" is a classic example of how poetry can capture the essence of humanity and nature in a single piece of writing. This poem is a beautiful and moving tribute to the life of St. Francis of Assisi, a man who dedicated his life to serving the poor and the marginalized. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language used in this poem to understand its deeper meaning and significance.

The poem begins with a description of a sow, a female pig, who is nursing her piglets. The sow is covered in mud and filth, and her piglets are "squealing" and "sucking" at her teats. This image is not a pleasant one, but Kinnell uses it to convey a sense of the raw, primal nature of life. The sow is a symbol of the earth and all its creatures, and her piglets represent the cycle of life and death that is inherent in nature.

The next stanza introduces St. Francis, who is walking through the countryside and comes across the sow and her piglets. St. Francis is a figure of great spiritual significance, known for his love of nature and his devotion to God. He is often depicted in art and literature as a gentle and compassionate man, and Kinnell's portrayal of him in this poem is no exception.

As St. Francis approaches the sow, he sees her not as a dirty and unclean animal, but as a creature of God, worthy of respect and love. He kneels down beside her and begins to speak to her, using gentle and soothing words. He tells her that she is beautiful and that her piglets are a gift from God. He even goes so far as to kiss her snout, an act of love and reverence that is both surprising and moving.

The third stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful, as it describes the transformation that takes place in the sow as a result of St. Francis's kindness. As he speaks to her and touches her, the sow begins to change. Her eyes become "clearer" and her body becomes "cleaner." She seems to be filled with a sense of peace and contentment, as if she has been touched by something divine.

This transformation is not just physical, but spiritual as well. The sow is no longer just an animal, but a creature of God, deserving of love and respect. St. Francis's act of kindness has brought her closer to God, and in doing so, has brought her closer to her true nature.

The final stanza of the poem brings the themes of nature and spirituality together in a powerful and moving way. Kinnell writes, "Sometimes it is necessary / to reteach a thing its loveliness, / to put a hand on its brow / of the flower / and retell it in words and in touch / it is lovely / until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing." This passage is a reminder that all creatures, no matter how small or insignificant, are worthy of love and respect. It is also a reminder that we have the power to transform the world around us through acts of kindness and compassion.

In terms of language and imagery, Kinnell's use of repetition and metaphor is particularly effective. The repetition of the word "sow" throughout the poem creates a sense of continuity and connection between the different stanzas. The metaphor of the sow as a symbol of nature and the earth is also powerful, as it reminds us of our connection to the natural world and the importance of treating it with respect and care.

Overall, "St. Francis and the Sow" is a beautiful and moving poem that captures the essence of humanity and nature in a single piece of writing. It reminds us of the power of kindness and compassion, and the importance of treating all creatures with love and respect. It is a testament to the enduring legacy of St. Francis of Assisi, and a reminder that his message of love and compassion is as relevant today as it was in his time.

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