Seamus Heaney uses imagery and allegory to enhance the theme of memory in “The Skunk”. The poem focuses on the image of a skunk and compares a brief image of the speaker's wife preparing for bed. The poem examines the speaker’s longing for his wife while he is away. Near the end of the poem, the first three stanzas are revealed as having been a scene from the speaker’s memory, when living away from his wife in California.
The reader is introduced to the skunk in the first stanza. It is an intruder in the speaker’s California garden. Immediately, the image of the skunk’s tail is striking: “Up, erect, and damasked like the chasuble at a funeral mass.”
Throughout the poem, the animal’s appearance evokes the memory of clothing from the speaker. The image clothing is visited three times. The first is at the beginning of the poem “‘like the chasuble” and then in the later stanzas of the poem where the speaker is focusing on his wife undressing: “sootfall of your things” and “the plunge-line nightdress.” The “sootfall” or light sound of the clothes dropping to the floor is reminiscent of the sounds the speaker heard the skunk making in the garden. The other two clothing images refer to contrast of the skunk’s appearance to his wife and a priest. Thought in the passage, “the chasuble at a funeral mass” is used to allude to the skunk resembling a priest but it also intensifies the poem’s melancholy and longing tone. There is also a religious undertone. Being with his wife is a regularity, or comparable to a religious ritual that the speaker is missing.
Early in the poem, the speaker’s feminization of the skunk: he expects “her like a visitor”, foreshadows the contrast of the skunk and his wife later in the poem. The speaker...