Alden Nowlan's "The Bull Moose" - a sample essay


The Bull Moose

Down from the purple mist of trees on the mountain,
lurching through forests of white spruce and cedar,
stumbling through tamarack swamps,
came the bull moose
to be stopped at last by a pole-fenced pasture.

Too tired to turn or, perhaps, aware
there was no place left to go, he stood with the cattle.
They, scenting the musk of death, seeing his great head
like the ritual mask of a blood god, moved to the other end
of the field, and waited.

The neighbours heard of it, and by afternoon
cars lined the road. The children teased him
with alder switches and he gazed at them
like an old, tolerant collie. The woman asked
if he could have escaped from a Fair.

The oldest man in the parish remembered seeing
a gelded moose yoked with an ox for plowing.
The young men snickered and tried to pour beer
down his throat, while their girl friends took their pictures.

And the bull moose let them stroke his tick-ravaged flanks,
let them pry open his jaws with bottles, let a giggling girl
plant a little purple cap
of thistles on his head.

When the wardens came, everyone agreed it was a shame
to shoot anything so shaggy and cuddlesome.
He looked like the kind of pet
women put to bed with their sons.

So they held their fire. But just as the sun dropped in the river
the bull moose gathered his strength
like a scaffolded king, straightened and lifted his horns
so that even the wardens backed away as they raised their rifles.

When he roared, people ran to their cars. All the young men
leaned on their automobile horns as he toppled.

ALDEN NOWLAN


Two Explications of Nowlan's "The Bull Moose"

The first explication strives to be concise, i.e. it seeks to say as much as it can in as few words as possible. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but brevity in itself is nothing if the richness is missing. A concise essay seeks to produce this feeling of high-octane reading. The danger of too much conciseness is that a weak reader may not read closely enough to pick up all that is bieng said and implied. Consider how many different points of the poem are covered in the following:

"The Bull Moose" by Alden Nowlan is a finely crafted poem which reminds us of how far man has strayed from Nature. Through a carefully constructed series of contrasted images, Nowlan laments, in true Romantic fashion, man's separation from Nature.

The strength of the old moose is impressive. On his death march, he nonetheless comes "lurching" and "stumbling" in ponderous and powerful strides to "the pole-fenced pasture''- the edge of civilization. A crowd quickly gathers, a crowd of men and women, old and young - all notable for their insensitivity and lack of respect. They confuse the moose with one of their own domesticated animals, like the cattle or collie or gelded moose or ox, failing to see the nobility and ancient wisdom of this moose from "the purple mist of trees." The scene becomes obscene as men "pry open his jaws with bottles" and "pour beer down his throat." The symbolic crown of thistles hammers home the innocent suffering perpetrated by these giggling and snickering buffoons.

But this moose is no "shaggy and cuddlesome" doll. Living in freedom beyond the fences of civilization, this king of the spruce, cedar, and tamarack meets his degraded executioners with overwhelming power. The deep roar of this magnificently horned ancient "blood god" contrasts sharply with the puny and cowardly whine of the automobile horns.

Nowlan's sympathy for the moose and his disgust for mankind is forcefully expressed in a natural free verse. This poem calls us to rethink the arrogant self-righteousness we hold toward Nature. By fencing ourselves in, perhaps we shut ourselves away from those qualities necessary to make us truly human.
269 words

The next sample is a reworking of the first sample but the conciseness has been taken out of it. Although it is more than twice as long, you will notice that it says no more than the first piece. Do you also see how this stretching out of the material has robbed it of its force? See if you can spot the various ways the prose has gone slack in this second piece. It reads smoothly enough yet several pages of this will tire you out as the mind starts to drift amongst the padding of the sentences.

"The Bull Moose" is a poem by one of the great Canadian poets, Alden Nowlan. It is a finely crafted poem by a very talented poet. It reminds us how far away from Nature the lives of ordinary men and women have strayed. This is something common to all of us who live so much our lives in buildings and who so rarely experience Nature in its raw form. Nowlan creates powerful layers of images, and contrasts them in a way to make us feel just how damaging to our minds and souls this separation from Nature has been. His poem is Romantic in the way it tries to remind us of how far we have fallen and how hollow our idea of progress is. Indeed, Nowlan suggests that we may be more of a beast than the moose.

The moose presents a picture of strength to the reader. I think he is searching for a place to die, but it can be seen that he still seems very powerful in the way he comes "lurching" and "stumbling" in such a powerful way, until he reaches the edge of his world, and the beginning of our world, at the "pole-fenced pasture." A crowd composed of men, women, and children seems to have materialized out of thin air. These are the representatives of civilized life, and they are uniformly marked by insensitivity and ignorance in the way in which they treat the moose. The people can't seem to understand that the moose is not the same kind of animal as their domesticated cattle, or their pet collie, or the gelded moose they remember having seen. They suffer from a severe kind of blindness which cannot recognize the deeper significance of this moose which has come to them from "the purple mist of the trees" as if he were some kind of mystical being full of ancient truths. The scene quickly develops into a pageant of obscenity as some of the men "pry open his jaws with bottles" and then "pour beer down his throat." The moose's crown of thistles is a symbol which serves to remind us of the unjustified suffering of Christ. In this way it makes us see our fellow humans in a revolting light as they proceed toward the humiliation and execution of one of the "lords of life."

But the people who think this moose is no more dangerous than a "shaggy and cuddlesome doll" are quickly brought to their senses. It lives a free life very different than theirs, beyond the symbolic fences of civilization. This moose is a king we are told, and he rules over his kingdom of spruce, cedar, and tamarack trees. He faces his tormentors with a power that overwhelms them. This "blood god", magnificently attired in his huge antlers, lets out a deafening roar which makes a great contrast with the chorus of heartless automobile horns.

Alden has a great deal of sympathy for the moose and a great deal of disgust for his fellow humans. He writes in a very natural sounding, but forceful free verse. The poem's message, in my opinion, is to make us reconsider the arrogant way we approach Nature as well as attacking the self righteous superiority we feel toward Nature. By putting fences around ourselves, we just may be cutting ourselves from many of the qualities that are necessary to make us truly human.
570 words