Tuesday, 27 July 2021 07:30

CHEETAH BY CHARLES EGLINGTON GRADE 12 NOTES - LITERATURE; POETRY STUDY GUIDE

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Cheetah by Charles Eglington

This poem was written by Charles Eglington (1918-1971). Eglington was born in Johannesburg and graduated from Wits University. He spent his life working in the media as a newspaper journalist, a translator and also in radio. Many of his poems are about animals.

Fun fact

  • Did you know the cheetah is the world's fastest animal - it can reach speeds of up to 96 kilometres per hour!

1. Themes

The main themes in this poem are that appearances can be misleading; and that in nature only the strongest survive.
The poet tells the story of an ordinary event among wild animals in nature – a hunter catching its prey. In the first part of the poem, the poet describes a young cheetah lying relaxed in the long grass of the bushveld, while a herd of buck grazes nearby. The buck do not know that the cheetah is close by.
The big cat is waiting for darkness before hunger makes it go out and hunt. Then the cheetah races forward towards the herd, which smells it and begins to run in panic. The chase is like a lottery, as the buck do not know which one of them will be caught. The cheetah leaps on one unlucky buck and kills it. (Cheetahs knock their prey down, jump on it and then bite its neck to kill it.)

Cheetah by Charles Eglington

Stanza 1

Indolent and kitten-eyed,

 
 

This is the bushveld’s innocent

 

The stealthy leopard parodied

 

With grinning, gangling pup-content.

Stanza 2

Slouching through the tawny grass

5

 

Or loose-limbed lolling in the shade,

 
 

Purring for the sun to pass

 
 

And build a twilight barricade.

 

Stanza 3

Around the vast arena where,

 
 

In scattered herds, his grazing prey 

10

  Do not suspect in what wild fear  
  They’ll join with him in fatal play;  

Stanza 4

Till hunger draws slack sinews tight

 
 

As vibrant as a hunter’s bow;

 
 

Then, like a fleck of mottled light,

15

 

He slides across the still plateau.

 

Stanza 5

A tremor rakes the herds: they scent

 
 

The pungent breeze of his advance;

 
 

Heads rear and jerk in vigilant

 
 

Compliance with the game of chance.

20

Stanza 6

In which, of thousands, only one

 
 

Is centred in the cheetah’s eye;

 
 

They wheel and then stampede, for none

 
 

Knows which it is that has to die.

 

Stanza 7

His stealth and swiftness fling a noose

25

 

And as his loping strides begin

 
 

To blur with speed, he ropes the loose

 
 

Buck on the red horizon in.

 

Words to know 

Definitions of words from the poem:

Line 1:

indolent

lazy

Line 2:

innocent

harmless

Line 3:

stealthy

quiet, sneaky, secret, dangerous

parodied

copy in a funny way

Line 4:

grinning

smiling

gangling

long-legged, awkward, clumsy

pup-content

happy

Line 5:

Slouching

moving casually, relaxed

tawny

yellowish-brown

Line 6:

loose-limbed

with relaxed legs

lolling

lying back, relaxing

Line 7:

purring

sound made by a happy cat

Line 8:

twilight

early evening

barricade

barrier, wall

Line 9:

vast

very big

arena

stadium, sports field

Line 10:

scattered

spread out

grazing

eating grass

prey

something or somebody who is being hunted

Line 11:

do not suspect

have no thoughts, do not expect

Line 12:

fatal

ending in death

Line 13:

slack

loose

sinews

tough fibres that tie muscles to bone

Line 14:

vibrant

full of life, energy

bow

weapon used to shoot arrows

Line 15:

fleck

tiny spot

mottled

patches of light and dark, full of shadows

Line 16:

slides

moves smoothly, swiftly, quietly

plateau

flat raised ground

Line 17:

tremor

shaking, shiver

rakes

moves through

scent

smell

Line 18:

pungent

strong smell

advance

moving towards them

Line 19:

rear

lift quickly

jerk

pull up quickly

vigilant

watchful, senses danger

Line 20:

compliance

giving in to, obeying the rules

Line 22:       centred

in the middle of, focused, given attention

Line 23:       wheel

turn

stampede

run away in terror and panic

Line 25:       swiftness

quickness

fling

throw

noose

circle of rope

Line 26:       loping

running

strides

big steps

Line 27:       blur

look unclear and fuzzy

Line 28:       horizon

far distance

2. Type and form

This is a narrative poem that tells the story of how the cheetah hunts its prey.
The poem has a formal structure (the way it is set out) with seven stanzas of four lines each (quatrains) that have a regular pattern of rhyme (abab).
Each of the seven stanzas tells a different part of the story. Some stanzas focus on the cheetah, others on the buck. In the last stanza, the two come together when the cheetah catches a buck. The poem’s structure (the form) and the hunt described in the poem (the content) are closely linked in an effective way.

3. Analysis

Stanza 1 (lines 1 – 4)

Indolent and kitten-eyed,
This is the bushveld’s innocent
The stealthy leopard parodied
With grinning, gangling pup-content.

In stanza one, the poet describes the cheetah as seeming to be harmless. The poet uses imagery as if he is describing a harmless young animal – the cheetah looks “innocent”. The metaphor “kitten-eyed” (line 1), compares the cheetah’s big eyes to those of a sweet kitten. The poet feels the leopard is a more impressive-looking animal and that the cheetah is a “parody” (or funny copy) of a leopard.
Both the leopard and the cheetah are big cats that have spots, but where the leopard is described as “stealthy” (line 2), which suggests it is secret and dangerous, the cheetah seems to smile in a rather silly way. The metaphor “pup-content” (line 4) compares it to a happy (and harmless) puppy.
The word “gangling” means it has long, loose legs that make it seem rather awkward and clumsy. The words for baby animals like “kitten” and “pup” suggest it is young, as does “gangling”, as teenage animals (including people) often seem to have long, thin bodies before they grow older, stronger and more muscular.

Stanza 2 (lines 5 – 8)

Slouching through the tawny grass
Or loose-limbed lolling in the shade,
Purring for the sun to pass
And build a twilight barricade.

The cheetah moves lazily and casually (“slouching” in line 5) through the grass or lies back, (“lolling” in line 6) in the shade during the day. Notice how the alliteration links the words “Loose-limbed lolling” in line 5, emphasising how relaxed the animal is.
The big cat purrs like a happy house cat as it waits patiently for the sun to set. Again, this makes the cheetah seem harmless, as cats purr when they are relaxed and content. At twilight it is growing dark and the metaphor “barricade” (line 8) compares the darkness to a wall or barrier that will hide the cheetah when it hunts. Barricades are often built across streets during wars or riots, so the poet’s diction (choice of words) creates a more uneasy tone with the use of “barricade”.
Up to now, the herd of buck and the cheetah seem relaxed. By including the word “barricade”, the poet introduces tension at the end of the stanza. The barricade interrupts the relaxed tone.

Stanza 3 (lines 9 – 12)

Around the vast arena where,
In scattered herds, his grazing prey
Do not suspect in what wild fear
They’ll join with him in fatal play;

The tension in the poem grows. The poet sets the scene for the hunt. The huge grasslands (“vast arena” line 9), the herds of buck that are spread about (“scattered”) as they graze and have no idea that there is a cheetah nearby waiting to kill one of them, its “prey” (line 10). In this stanza, the poet uses an extended metaphor which is carried on in the first and last lines of the stanza. The hunt is compared to a game that is played to the death in an “arena”. This game or “fatal play” (line 12) is an oxymoron, because “play” suggests a game, but “fatal” means deadly, so this game will end in a death.
This creates a visual image (a picture we can see in our minds) of the games in the Coliseum, the great sports stadium of ancient Rome, when spectators enjoyed watching men fight with swords and the loser was often killed. As we read, we feel fearful for the unsuspicious buck that do not know of the danger that is coming. We begin to sympathise with the “wild fear” (line 9) they will feel when the cheetah begins its chase. Notice how vividly and strikingly the poet’s diction in “wild fear” conveys the panic the buck are going to feel. The uneasy tone becomes stronger now.

Stanza 4 (lines 13 – 16)

Till hunger draws slack sinews tight
As vibrant as a hunter’s bow;
Then, like a fleck of mottled light,
He slides across the still plateau.

This stanza describes the cheetah as it attacks. The animal now changes from a harmless-seeming young animal into a dangerous predator (hunter) as it begins its chase. Unlike the ancient Romans, for whom killing was a sport, the cheetah hunts only to eat and survive.
When it starts to think about hunting its body changes from relaxed to tense. The poet uses a simile that compares it to a bow. When an archer (who shoots with bow and arrow) gets ready to shoot the arrow, he pulls back the string of the bow very tightly so that the arrow will shoot forward with great speed and power. In the same way, when the cheetah is hungry and ready to hunt, it tenses all the muscles in its body (“slack sinews tight” in line 13). As it jumps forward, the cheetah’s body bends in a curve like a bow and it is no longer “slack” (relaxed) but “vibrant” - filled with energy and life.
The poet uses a simile “like a mottled fleck of light” (line 15) to describe the cheetah’s speed, as its spotted body moves as fast as a flashing spot of light. It moves so smoothly and quickly that it seems to “slide” across the flat ground (line16). Notice how the alliteration of the hissing “s” sound in “slide/still” emphasises its speed. The cheetah’s movement is purposeful, controlled and confident.

Stanza 5 (lines 17 – 20)

A tremor rakes the herds: they scent
The pungent breeze of his advance;
Heads rear and jerk in vigilant
Compliance with the game of chance.

The poet now describes the reaction of the herd. The buck catch the strong (“pungent”) smell of the cheetah, perhaps carried to them on the wind. They all shiver (“tremor”) with fear (line 17). The metaphor “rakes” describes the way the shiver of fear (“tremor”) runs through the herd the way a rake (a garden instrument like a very big fork) can sweep along the ground.
All moving together at the same time, the buck at once raise their heads and become tense and watchful. In a metaphor the poet compares the buck to people taking part in a “game of chance” (line 20). They have no choice but “compliance” - they have to fit in with the rules of the “game” in which they know that any one of them might be attacked and killed by the cheetah. Unfortunately for the buck, the rules of nature are that some animals have to die so that others can survive.

Stanza 6 (lines 21 – 24)

In which, of thousands, only one
Is centred in the cheetah’s eye;
They wheel and then stampede, for none
Knows which it is that has to die.

Of all the thousands of buck, the cheetah sets his eyes on only one. All his attention is on one buck. The buck all turn round quickly, they “wheel” and “stampede” (line 23) to get away. When herd animals (such as cows, horses or buck) are afraid, they stampede – the whole herd runs away in a mass panic. Their movement is uncontrolled. They know one of them will die, but do not know which of them the cheetah has chosen to kill.
The rhyming of “eye” (line 22) and “die” (line 24) links these two words to emphasise that the buck has no chance of escape. The buck is in the cheetah’s sight.

Stanza 7 (lines 25 – 28)

His stealth and swiftness fling a noose
And as his loping strides begin
To blur with speed, he ropes the loose
Buck on the red horizon in.

In this last stanza, the poet returns to describing the cheetah. He again uses an extended metaphor, this time of a cowboy using a lasso.
The silent speed (“stealth and swiftness” in line 25) with which the cheetah runs towards the buck is compared to the rope and noose flying through the air. The cheetah’s long steps (“loping strides” in line 26) begin to go so fast that you cannot see the animal clearly; you see only a blur. The cowboy metaphor is continued when the cheetah leaps on the buck’s back to knock it to the ground, as this is compared to the rope pulling the animal in. The horizon is described as “red” (line 28). This could refer to the red of the setting sun but it also suggests that the land itself is stained with the blood of the dead buck.
Note that stanzas 6 and 7 are part of a continuous run-on line – this helps to suggest that the cheetah is gaining speed and its movements are not interrupted as it chases its prey.
There is a contrast between the description of the harmless looking cheetah in the first two stanzas and the dangerous hunter in the later stanzas.

Note:

  • Lasso - a long rope with a loop at the end called a noose. To catch a cow, the cowboy throws the rope so that the loop falls around the animal's neck so that he can pull it in. 
  • Run-in-line: the meaning runs on from one line to the next, without being broken by punctuation.

4. Tone and mood

The tone of the poem is relaxed, like the cheetah, at the start. It becomes more urgent and tense as the poem progresses, starting with the uneasy tone at the end of stanza 3. The tone of danger increases later in the poem as the poet describes the hunt.
The mood of a poem is how it makes the reader feel. How does this poem make you feel? For example, happy, sad, angry, or indifferent.

Summary
Cheetah by Charles Eglington

  1. Theme
    The main themes are that appearances can be misleading; and that in nature, only the strongest survive.
  2. Type and form
     Narrative poem

Activity 10 

Refer to the poem on page 87 and answer the questions below.

  1.   Complete the following sentences by using the words provided in the list below.
     young; snarling; awkward; old; smiling; graceful
    The poet says that the cheetah is (1.1) … but it has (1.2) … movements and it appears to be (1.3) …         (3)
  2. What does the word “indolent” in line 1 tell you about the cheetah? State TWO (2)
  3. Choose the correct answer to complete the following In line 3 the speaker’s tone shows that he feels ...
    1. the cheetah is better than the leopard.
    2. the leopard is better than the cheetah.
    3. the cheetah and the leopard are the same.
    4. the cheetah is quieter than the leopard.                           (1)
  4. Refer to the words “twilight barricade” in line
    4.1 Identify the figure of speech used (1)
    4.2 Explain why the poet uses this figure of (2)
  5. Which ONE WORD in stanza three shows that purpose of the hunt is to find food? (1)
  6. Quote two consecutive words in this stanza that contradict each other (oxymoron), and suggest that the hunt is not really a game? (2)
  7. Refer to line 14 (“And vibrant as a hunter’s bow”).
    7.1 Identify the figure of speech used (1)
    7.2 Explain why the poet has used this figure of (2)
  8. Refer to line 20 (“Compliance with the game of chance”).
    Do you think the use of the word “compliance” is suitable? Discuss your view.                                                  (2)
  9. What message does this poem have for you? (1) [18]
 Answers to Activity 10
1.1 Smiling/young/graceful/awkward ✓  

1.2.

Awkward/graceful ✓

 

1.3.

Young/smiling ✓

(3)

2.

The cheetah is lazy/inactive/idle ✓✓

(2)

3.

B / the leopard is better than the cheetah. ✓

(1)

4.1.

Metaphor ✓

(1)

4.2.

Night/darkness will become his shield from his prey ✓✓
OR
Night/darkness will conceal/hide him from his prey ✓✓
OR
Night /darkness will contain his prey ✓✓

(2)

5.

“prey” ✓

(1)

6.

“fatal play” ✓✓

(2)

7.1.

Simile ✓

(1)

7.2.

The poet compares the cheetah to a hunter’s bow. When it is hunting, the cheetah has the speed and force of a hunter’s bow and arrow. ✓✓
OR
To show that the cheetah is as fast/quick as a hunter’s bow (arrow) ✓✓

 (2)
8.

Yes, when one sees no way out of a fatal situation, one gives in and accepts one’s fate. ✓✓
OR
No, although the herd knows that one of them is to be killed, they still try and escape. ✓✓
OR
No, one does not simply accept one’s fate when facing danger/ death/ There’s always a chance of survival if one tries to escape. ✓✓

 (2)
9
  • Cruelty of nature ✓
  • Survival of the fittest ✓
  • Appearances can be misleading ✓
  • The cycle of life/predators only kill for food ✓
  • In every situation in nature there is a killer and a victim. ✓
(1)
    [18]
Last modified on Wednesday, 08 September 2021 12:22