An Afternoon with Irish Cows by Billy Collins

An Afternoon with Irish Cows by Billy Collins

“An Afternoon with Irish Cows” by Billy Collins is a delightful poem that celebrates the beauty and simplicity of rural life in Ireland. In this essay, we will analyze the poem’s themes, style, and structure to understand its meaning and significance.

The poem opens with the lines, “There were a few dozen who occupied the field / and its meadow, vast and flat and empty of everything but grass.” These lines set the scene for the poem, which takes place in a rural field in Ireland. The image of the field being vast and empty, except for the cows grazing on the grass, conveys a sense of tranquility and simplicity.

The second stanza describes the cows in detail, highlighting their physical characteristics and behaviors. The lines, “Their jaws moved powerful and slow, / their eyes were fixed upon the horizon, as if they were trying to locate where the source of the green fusillade / that rained down upon their heads and backs,” create a vivid image of the cows grazing peacefully in the field. The use of the word “fusillade” to describe the grass raining down on the cows is particularly effective, as it suggests a sense of abundance and fertility.

The third stanza shifts the focus from the cows to the speaker, who describes his own feelings as he observes the cows. The lines, “I leaned against a gate and opened a bottle of beer. / All I heard was the breeze in the hedge, the odd bird / and, far away, the cars hummed on the motorway,” convey a sense of calm and contentment. The speaker is enjoying the peace and quiet of the rural landscape, and the presence of the cows seems to heighten his sense of connection to nature.

The fourth stanza is a meditation on the nature of cows and their role in rural life. The lines, “I noticed their gray eyes / as they watched me with level heads / and I thought, these are the quietest creatures in the world,” suggest that the speaker is drawn to the cows’ serene and contemplative nature. The final lines of the stanza, “They do not speak, they do not fuss, / they do not have religions, / they do not vote, they do not pay taxes, / they do not even think about sex,” suggest that the cows are the ultimate embodiment of simplicity and contentment.

The fifth and final stanza of the poem is a celebration of the beauty and wonder of rural life. The lines, “So, I stood there in the field, feeling queer and unusual, / admiring the simplicity of cows, / the way they do without religion, / the way they do without mind,” suggest that the speaker has been moved by his encounter with the cows. The final lines of the poem, “And then the light gradually withdrew / and the sky changed color behind the grazing bones,” convey a sense of the passing of time and the impermanence of all things.

The style of the poem is marked by its simplicity and clarity. Collins’ use of language is precise and measured, and his images are vivid and evocative. The poem is written in a regular rhyme scheme, with each stanza consisting of four lines. This creates a sense of order and balances that reinforces the poem’s themes of simplicity and contentment.

In conclusion, “An Afternoon with Irish Cows” is a beautiful and moving poem that celebrates the beauty and simplicity of rural life in Ireland. Through its vivid imagery and contemplative language, the poem conveys the speaker’s sense of connection to nature and his appreciation for the tranquility and contentment of rural life. Collins’ simple yet powerful style serves to underscore the poem’s emotional intensity, and its themes of simplicity, contentment, and the passing of time resonate with readers to this day. ”