‘The Gun’ is a poem by Vicki Feaver which explores the concept of power through the use of destructive hunting imagery. Feaver is a highly acclaimed poet who frequently uses objects from everyday life in her poems to present key ideas and themes, and this poem is no different. Women have had a large impact in her life since her childhood, and that has encouraged her to focus on female creativity and representation, including how these ideas can be expressed in more unusual forms.
This poem is part of the set of prescribed poems that could be included in the Edexcel English Literature exam, meaning that it is important to study, understand and revise this poem. Click here to see all the prescribed poems from the ‘Poems of the Decade’ collection.
Interpreture gives ‘The Gun’ a difficulty rating of 3, meaning that it is deemed to be of average difficulty. Various language devices can be identified and analysed relatively easily, which makes this poem relatively approachable. Some aspects of the structure and meaning are less obvious, but this is also beneficial in allowing deeper arguments and points of comparison.
The ominous title would likely make a reader feel somewhat apprehensive for what may be described in the poem. A “gun” has strong negative connotations associated with it, including violence and death, and the use of “the” gives additional emphasis to the object, indicating that it will be integral to events. Other than these points, there is a general lack of any other information in this title, which is very effective for such an attention-grabbing name and enabling a sense of apprehension to build.
The layout of the stanzas in this poem is notable, varying between a typical six to seven line length, all the way to single lines that are extremely attention-grabbing. The single line, “A gun brings a house alive.” is inserted into the poem before the last stanza, which is an effective placement because it helps to ensure that a reader questions the use of guns, and the violent descriptions which are being shared. In addition, the reference to change in the opening two lines could be seen as supported by the ever-changing line length and stanza length throughout the poem, with this variance showing the action and changes that occur as a result of the use of guns.
Punctuation also has an important role to play in the poem, because this helps to shape the rhythm and can be interpreted as creating the sound of shooting and bullets, or alternatively the abrupt changes in situations as a result of using guns. The use of colons, such as “the cooking: jointing” in the final stanza, acts as a strong caesura and ‘jars’ the poem’s flow and rhythm, which could be interpreted as showing the unnatural impact that guns and killing has on the world. Alternatively, it could be seen as showing nervousness and apprehension, with the narrator not convinced about the specific ideas and scenes they are describing.
A notable example of enjambment is used in the first two lines, with the split of the line between “house” and “changes” immediately drawing the eye and opening the poem with an unnatural break. Not only does this visually and audibly demonstrate change, it further reinforces the idea of the unnatural by breaking the line in a strange way. The almost challenging way in which this line is presented emphasises the bold statement, and helps a reader to appreciate the serious tone of the poem.
Short and sudden sounds from specific word choices are a key part of how ‘The Gun’ has been made to successfully present the concept of destruction. For example, “grainy polished wood stock” is notable for the use of hard consonant, plosive sounds. A reader would likely find this very effective, particularly when reading aloud, because this removes softer feelings and connotations that may otherwise create empathy, with the continuation of harsh sounds emphasising damage and power.
The semantic field of death and guns works simultaneously with specific sounds to help reinforce the destructive imagery and highlight the power of guns. Words such as “reek” “entrails” “dangling” and “dead” all contribute to the idea of death which permeates the poem. However, there are often examples of juxtaposition with these ideas, such as “clean” to describe the shot rabbit, or “spring” to describe the movement of an individual. These more positive and arguably ‘innocent’ ideas act as a sharp contrast to the death being described, with the context demonstrating how truly destructive the gun is.
Many poems in the Poems of the Decade anthology focus on a first person narrative, but ‘The Gun’ breaks this pattern with a much stronger use of “you” with their own inclusion only in the very last stanza. This is very effective at making a reader feel part of these events, which could easily evoke guilt. However, the persistent use throughout the poem accompanied by positive descriptions such as “your eyes gleam” could in fact begin to make a reader feel a sense of enjoyment and satisfaction. This would be exceptionally effective, particularly for a reader whose viewpoint has changed significantly as they would question what has brought about this change in their thought process. As such, this element of the poem could be seen as challenging the negative view of hunting and showing how it has potential to bring people closer.
“At first it’s just practice:”
In any other situation, this line would be ordinary and not have any particular significance. However, the context in which it is placed immediately gives a negative tone and sense of apprehension. The almost sinister colon placed at the end ensures that a reader has time to consider the weight of the phrase, and would assume that death is inevitable.
“like when sex was fresh”
To describe “sex” as “fresh” adds an animalistic tone to the description, possibly evoking images of raw meat considering the previous descriptions of butchered animals. As such, this line could be interpreted as dehumanising both men and women by applying the idea broadly to sex. It could also be interpreted as demonstrating power dynamics between individuals, continuing the theme of power that has been an undertone in ‘The Gun’.
“the King of Death”
The specific choice of a male title feeds into the traditional view of masculine power, which combines with traditional indications of power to present the idea of death as one which has an almost supernatural ability. The mix of the idea of royalty also gives an interesting twist to the poem, perhaps encouraging a reader to consider the social aspects and how the rich and powerful are more advantaged.
‘The Gun’ Key Themes
- Power: This theme is expressed in several ways in ‘The Gun’ although mainly through the representation of the object’s power and influence. There are also ideas about power of humans over nature, and then different individuals over each other either through masculine ideas or societal ranking.
- Gender: Guns are typically seen as a more masculine idea and associated with traditionally masculine ideas, so this presentation in contrast against feminine imagery could be seen as showing conflict between genders. However there is not a clear divide between genders in this poem due to the lack of specification, perhaps demonstrating that both are responsible.
- Conflict: The inclusion of weaponry and death inevitably leads to the theme of conflict, with the semantic field a strong contributor to the development of this idea. References to a “house” could also help the poem be interpreted as looking at conflicts within households.
Quick Focus Questions
- How does the tone of the line “A gun brings a house alive” impact a reader?
- What is the significance of the final line of ‘The Gun’ and how could this compare to the final line of other poems in the Poems of the Decade anthology?
- How do the links between natural and destructive imagery make the poem more effective?
The dramatic imagery makes the poem exciting and interesting for a reader, particularly with the curious links between houses, nature and relationships. On a surface reading the poem may also seem quite simplistic, but a huge range of different individual lines can be analysed for how they shape a readers interpretation of the poem, making this a great poem to use for comparison on a number of themes or topics. For example, with ‘Chainsaw Versus the Pampas Grass’ and ‘Eat Me’ for concepts of gender, or ‘The Deliverer’ for the encouragement of the reader to feel complicit in events. Alternatively the idea of human nature could be considered in comparison to ‘Genetics’.