by Robert Lowell
Let's face it, the skunks don't get a whole lot of "air time" in this poem, but they're definitely major players on the symbolic level. We get the first hint that they're important when Lowell sticks them in the title. "Skunk Hour" is a play on "witching hour," or midnight – the time when witches are supposed to be most active doing all their weird, witchy stuff. So right away we see that the skunks are being compared to witches, at least indirectly – they're associated with the spooky and otherworldly, where strange and disturbing things are possible. They also (not coincidentally) pop up right after the speaker admits that he's feeling kind of crazy. So whatever the skunks do in this poem, they sort of act as the backdrop or catch-all of this guy's madness. It's not just skunks being skunks anymore, but skunks as seen through the eyes of a mentally ill man – needless to say, these animals take on a stranger, darker light.
- The Title: "Skunk Hour" = witching hour.
- Lines 37-38: The skunks' debut! Lowell describes them searching under the moonlight – werewolf-ish, witchy!
- Line 39: Marching through the middle of town is a pretty bold move. This line almost makes you think of zombies marching through the place and, while all the people are sleeping, they're gathering numbers to take over. Of course that isn't what's happening with the skunks, but Lowell wants us to create that same feeling of uneasiness.
- Line 40: OK, this is definitely a creepy way of describing skunks. Lowell is using horror movie buzzwords here – "moonstruck eyes' red fire." He might as well be talking about a monster!
- Line 45: This line is interesting because it interrupts the exaggerated scary things he was turning the skunks into before. Here, they seem like regular old skunks – a mother and her kittens even. It's almost sweet!
- Lines 46-47: In these lines, though, Lowell's back to his old tricks. He describes them as other than what they are, giving us that distorted, crazy feeling again before getting to the last line in the poem.
- Line 48: So, unlike most wild animals that will skitter away if you approach them, these skunks aren't afraid of anything – which makes them kind of scary.