Poems by Gilbert K. Chesterton and M. Oliver Analysis


Poetry can take many forms and use a variety of rhyme types and literary devices. Despite the diversity of forms, poems have one thing in common: they elicit deep feelings from people’s souls and make readers reflect on important philosophical questions. This essay will discuss two pieces of poetry: The Donkey by Gilbert Keith Chesterton and Wild Geese by Mary Oliver. These poems are devoted to different themes and have different forms, but both of them made me think about human nature and the place of humans in this world.

The Donkey

The Donkey by Chesterton contains four stanzas, each of which has four lines. The stanzas follow the rhyme scheme ABCB DEFE throughout the poem. The author used perfect rhymes to end the second and the fourth lines of each stanza. The poem follows an iambic metrical pattern consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. The first and the third lines have four iambic feet, which is characteristic of iambic tetrameter, and the second and the fourth lines contain three iambic feet, which is iambic trimeter.

Chesterton used various literary devices in this poem to convey a picture to the reader. There is a lot of imagery, which helps readers understand the image created by the author. For example, the creature in the poem is described as having a “monstrous head and sickening cry / And ears like errant wings” (Chesterton). The use of these words helps the author convey the sound and sight. Another literary device used in this piece of poetry is alliteration.

In the first and second lines of the poem, Chesterton repeated the sound “f”: “When fishes flew and forests walked / And figs…” The third stanza contains such alliterative phrases as “Starve, scourge” and “secret still” (Chesterton). Chesterton also used a simile to describe the donkey’s “ears like errant wings.” Overall, the author employed the figurative elements powerfully and managed to create a vivid image of a miserable animal.

In this poem, Chesterton described the donkey’s perception of itself before and after Jesus Christ led him to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The donkey is the narrator, and it depicts itself as a monstrous creature being born under unrealistic circumstances, “when fishes flew,” “forests walked,” “figs grew upon thorn,” and “the moon was blood” (Chesterton). The words that the donkey uses to describe itself show its ultimate self-hatred. My attention was especially attracted by the lines, “The devil’s walking parody / On all four-footed things” (Chesterton). It implies that the donkey considers itself so miserable that it cannot be called a devil’s copy or child, only a parody. In the end, the tone changes to an exalted one, when the donkey boasts about palms that were brought to its feet. The animal is sure that all those honors were dedicated to it, not to Jesus, who was walking beside it.

This piece of poetry made me reflect on people’s desire to get social recognition. In my opinion, the donkey in the poem symbolizes a person who feels unappreciated. It strikes the eye that the donkey at first says, “Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,” and then continues, “Fools! For I also had my hour” (Chesterton). It made me think that the donkey willingly accepted its inferiority and let others insult it, but, deep inside, the creature despised those who were superior to it. Furthermore, the donkey assumed that the honors devoted to Jesus were designed for it, which made me feel pity for this creature. In my opinion, this poem encourages people to be aware of their worth and not to ascribe others’ achievements to themselves.

Wild Geese

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver is a poem having only one stanza consisting of eighteen lines. It does not follow any metrical pattern and does not have rhymes, except for one slant end rhyme between lines sixteen and eighteen. Thus, the poem is written in the form of free verse. The author uses different figurative elements in this piece of poetry. Mary Oliver often uses anaphora; for example, in the beginning, she repeats the phrase “you do not have to” (347). In lines seven, eight, and twelve, she repeats the word “meanwhile” (Oliver 347). The author also uses enjambments, that is, syntactically incomplete lines, the sense of which cannot be fully understood until the reader reads the next line.

The poem is written in the form of the author’s appeal to the reader. The theme of this literary piece is that people “do not have to be good” (Oliver 347). Instead, they should “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves” (Oliver 347). In my opinion, Oliver encourages her readers to accept themselves as they are, do what they love, and do not pretend to be better than they are. What appealed to me most is the conciliating tone, with which the author gives advice to the reader. At first, she narrates about people’s sorrows, but then, after the phrase “meanwhile the world goes on,” she changes the subject to nature (Oliver 347). By doing this, Oliver seems to show people that if they are in despair, they should look around them, and the stability of nature will bring them comfort.


In conclusion, the discussed poems are different both in their forms and in meaning. However, in both pieces of poetry, the authors, in a figurative way, give instructions to their readers as to how they should live. Chesterton seems to teach readers to be aware of their true value, while Oliver recommends people be faithful to themselves and search for peace of mind in nature.

Works Cited

Chesterton, Gilbert Keith. “Journey with Jesus. Web.

Oliver, Mary. Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver. Penguin, 2017.

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