The Groundhog, Poetry Reaction

March 30, 2008
By Sara Collins, Johns Creek, GA

Traditionally, a groundhog is a symbol of hope, a hope that there is an end to a seemingly endless winter, a hope that spring is just around the corner. In Richard Eberhart’s poem, “The Groundhog,” he explores the journey of a man through a phase in his life in comparison to the death and decay of a groundhog.

“In June, amid the golden fields, I saw a groundhog lying dead.” In this line, Eberhart sets up the man’s situation to be one of tragic abruptness. Just at the groundhogs death was unforeseen and disrupting to his peaceful day, the tragedy represented in the man’s life was not planned for. “His form began its senseless change,” describes the beginning of the nature and maggot takeover of the carcass. The event in the man’s life changed him, slowly and surely it rotted him from the outside in, getting to his core and taking piece by piece of who he was. The speaker of the poem is the man himself, and he says in line 12 that “I poked him with an angry stick. The fever rose, became and flame...” This symbolizes his outrage at the event that has tragically altered his life. He becomes angry, bitter, and frustrated, trying to bully it out of his life, trying to bring the groundhog back from the dead with a mere stick. Line 17 goes on to say that “My stick had done nor good nor harm,” meaning that no matter his anger or his frustration, the situation remained and he had to remain to fight it out. In the same sense, the groundhog was dead, and not matter the unfair means of his death, there was not turning back, no undoing what had already happened. The language of the poem is initially one of shock and discomfort at what had taken place to the groundhog and to the man’s own life. However, as the poem progresses, the language begins to take on a tone of anger that works itself out into acceptance and the man stood, “Praying for joy in the sight of decay.”

“And so I left; and I returned,” starts off the next phase of the man’s life crisis in line 25. The man distanced himself from the scene of the groundhog’s death, he went away, and came back to see what time had healed and taken away. Upon his arrival, he saw “...the sap gone out of the groundhog, by the bony sodden hulk remained.” The initial disgust and what little life was left in the dead, was gone. However, the shell of the groundhog remained, a reminder. In the same way, the man’s life had continued and his initial anger had been displaced gradually over the course of time. He returned to the scene of his tragedy and was reminded once again of his pain. This reminder caused his tone of acceptance and progression to change into a tone and a language of remorse and apathy for what had been lost and what was still digging away at him.

After leaving the groundhog for the second time, the man returned yet again a season later. The scene was not as obvious as before, and only upon closer inspection did the man find, “…only a little hair left.” In the same way, he had made a new life void of this event. Though the reminder was still there, his life was no longer centered around the tragedy. He was taking steps forwards and gradually the reminders decayed until they were almost nothing. Here his tone changes to one of hope; he sees beauty in his rise from the ashes and into the groundhog’s return to his intended dusty state. “And bones bleached in the sunlight beautiful as architecture…” describes an almost awed state at how such a tragic and altering event can be looked upon as beautiful despite its tragic content.

Finally, the man returns three years later, unable to find the spot upon which the groundhog met his end. In the same way, the man has completed his turnover. He has taken the tragic beauty of his situation and renewed his life and his perspective. Though he still carries a “…withered heart,” the man has moved to a place where the reminders do not exist and he is free from what so viciously altered his course. Here the language switches to a tone of remembrance as the man looks to the places and the people he has encountered on his journey.

The groundhog retains his symbol of hope in Richard Eberhart’s poem. It represents the stages of the man’s hope as it is developed after his tragedy. Just as the groundhog’s body disappeared, so did the man’s fears in the presence of his growing hope for something good to come from his tragedy. The language of the poem follows the emotions of the speaker as he watches the metamorphosis of the groundhog and in the same way, the metamorphosis of his life after tragedy.

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