“The Skunk” by Seamus Heaney is set at night in California. A man is away from his wife and while he is writing in the darkness, a skunk passes by and takes on the qualities of his wife. The themes of this poem are sexual desire, and the love Heaney has for his wife. This poem is highly conversational and heavily descriptive of the environment as well as the feelings of the poet. The poem contains academic terms such as “mythological” as well as words from a foreign language, such as “voyeur” in the poem.
This poem uses the symbol of the skunk to represent the sacred and sexual relationship that Heaney shares with his wife. It is risky in that the skunk is often viewed as a repulsive wild animal but he uses this animal to make a comparison to his wife, but successful because it shows another side of relationships. It is sacred “like the chasuble” of a priest, and also repulsive because of its unpleasant odour. The second stanza paints the scene using self-contained end-stopped lines. The “desk like softened” to a brightness suited for a romantic atmosphere.
There is also a reference to sex, the “small oranges” represent a distinct part of a woman’s body. At this point, the speaker begins to “tense like a voyeur”. The word “voyeur” has a negative connotation showing that the speaker is very uncomfortable with his own self-image. The third stanza is the opposite of the sentence structure of stanza 2. It uses enjambment to accelerate the pace of the poem and to increase in intensity of the poem. It creates a sense of urgency and excitement while allowing a flow of emotions.
He describes the relationship he has wife his wife, the words “composing” and “love” both imply care and tenderness. While the words “broaching” and “cask”, that are often used to describe the process of wine making, focus on the value of the relationship as well as its maturity and age. There is evidence of sensory imagery used in the poem, such as “snuffing”, “inhaling”, “tang of eucalyptus” and “mouthful of wine”. Making use of the senses evokes the presence of the “wife”, and underscores the multifaceted and rich aspects of love and sensuality.
By using the definite article “the” before “intent and glamorous”, it shows the great love he has for his wife. While he has been exiled from his wife, the skunk suddenly reminds him of her, remembering the gentle removal of clothing “at bedtime” and setting an erotic atmosphere. Her position over the “bottom drawer” searching for the “black plunge-line nightdress” returns to the metaphor of the skunk because of the same stance the image of his wife is in.
It is however, ironic that Heaney’s wife is looking for her dress when he finds her already extremely attractive without anything on. Black is the dominant colour in the poem. The colour has diverse associations with mystery, the night, a wild animal, sex as well as sadness. It is a mixture of glamour, sex and allure. Heaney also uses zoomorphicism to transfer the eroticism he derives from a skunk onto his wife. It shows the naturalness of the relationship, the animal sensuality they experience the primitive nature of sex and the skunk is used to emphasises the context.