Richard Church Poems
The Resilience of Nature Against Industrialisation in ‘The Pigeon’ by Richard Church
The poem, ‘The Pigeon’ by Richard Church metaphorically explore themes of nature and beauty against destruction and industrialisation of the modern world. The pigeon is a metaphor for nature and wildlife and the concrete mixer represents industrialisation that is made possible by the workmen, the human race stood as a warning or symbol of the possible destruction and deception of industrialization
The poem begins, ‘Throb, throb from the mixer / Spewing out concrete’, The repetition of ‘throb’ gives the idea of time passing and describes this on going action that will not stop – a ‘throb’ is a steady, on going pulse like the beating of our heart, an action that is essential to our survival, this could allude to our reliance on man made objects and developments and also how we are constantly polluting the world, without any plan to stop. The verb, ‘spewing’ connotes uncontrolled release of concrete implying we are out of control of our expansion on earth and can’t limit how fast and how much we destroy the world anymore because we have become so reliant on industry. The sounds are a prominent part of the poem they help build the character of both the pigeon and the cement mixer. The cement mixer is described with quite aggressive strong sounds such as, ‘throb’, ‘hiss’, ‘clatter.’ This suggests that our destruction of the planet is forceful and violent, also using a verb such as ‘hiss’ personifies the cement mixer suggesting the power of it, but also implying connotations of a snake, which are that of evilness and betrayal, here Church could even be suggesting that what humans are doing to the planet is evil and that they are turning their backs on nature and betraying the planet that allows them to live. This in turn helps the reader to empathize with nature as a whole and to understand the impact of what they are doing.
As the third stanza reads, ‘the crowd stands by/ watching the smoothers.’ Here, Church is referring to the workmen as ‘smoothers’ this contrasts to earlier where they were described as ‘serpent-warders’ When he writes ‘smoothers’ he is describing the application of concrete, he says that the ‘crowd stands by’ alluding to the fact that society in standing by letting our planet become concrete and be destructed, because this is inevitably a small compromise for what we expect in life – pavements, roads, electricity. As long as we cant see the destruction – all we see is smooth pavements and running water, we stand by and let it happen. This is why to us; the workmen appear just as ‘smoothers’ rather than the ‘serpent-warders’ they really are, slowly covering the ground because that is all we want to see. Church criticizes our passive attitude towards industrialisation by describing the destruction of the planet and its affect on nature.
Church states ‘see how those curdled lakes/ glisten in the sky.’ Here the concrete is described metaphorically as a ‘curdled lake.’ The verb ‘curdled’ suggests a lumpy and separated state; this could imply that the concrete is ugly and unsightly. Then it is described as a lake, this could suggest its expansion is like that of a lake, uncontrolled and fathoming, this contradiction could also imply the differences between the two – concrete is hard and ugly whereas lakes are beautiful and natural, they are complete opposites from their states of matter to their function of being. Church goes even further to describe the concrete lake as ‘glistening under the sky’ this extends the metaphor of the lake even further, it could also be alluding to the deceptiveness of the concrete. Church is saying that we don’t really understand what is happening to the planet and everything that is ugly about industrialisation is covered up so that we can live a nice life, but he is highlighting that this is all an illusion and that under the glistening lake is cold hard concrete.
The pigeon, ‘flutters down to bathe its wings in that mirage of water.’ There is a clear contrast between the verbs used to describe the cement mixer and the pigeon, the cement mixer is described using much more violent and destructive verbs such as ‘stab’ ‘spew’ whereas the pigeon is described with verbs such as, ‘flutter’ and ‘bathe’ these suggest the gentleness and fragility of the pigeons and therefore of nature, it isn’t obstructive or harmful. The noun ‘ mirage’ is an optical illusion of water; the bird has been tricked into thinking that the concrete is water. This is an example of how helpless nature is against us, it is even reflected in the structure, in this stanza the reader know that the water is just a mirage but the bird doesn’t, this shows how we as humans know and understand what is happening to our world but are letting it happen anyway. This leaves the bird feeling ‘deceived’ this anthromorphism allows Church to establish an empathetic relationship between the reader and the bird, where we feel a sense of guilt at what we are doing to an otherwise helpless nature.
In the concrete, ‘the seal of its concrete foot, set till rocks crumble.’ The pigeon has accidentally landed in the concrete whilst it is still drying. The noun ‘seal’ is a personal and original mark; it is also the final mark that closes something. The concrete will be set with this seal of the bird’s footprint until it is destroyed. This comparison is effective as it compares the original beautiful footprint of a bird to something as common and reproducible as concrete. The small footprint on the concrete is a visual reminder to us that we need to stop what we are doing. It suggests that nature and wildlife is trapped into the destructive cycle we have entered.
Overall, Church plays on the metaphor of a pigeon and a cement mixer to help the reader understand the relationship between humans and nature in modern society. He criticises our passive attitudes towards issues such as climate change and industrialization and plays on ethos to build empathy towards nature, through the story within the poem of the pigeon being deceived by the concrete. Church leaves us with a warning to change our ways through a visual image of the birds footprint left in the stone.