- My household has a pig
- Although otherwise well provided
- With father and mother, a dog, two cats, and three children
- (The parrot died years ago),
- He is called “Pig” simply and fits his name well
- Being made of pigskin, but his shape improvised not stuffed:
- He would be too horrible stuffed.
- His ears are like a sow’s ears, large pointed and pendulous, or
- Like the melted blades of Swahili spears.
- He stands patiently under the piano
- Attentive to receive some expected command
- And ready to obey with cheerful alacrity like any Able Seaman.
- His eyes are square buttons, neatly folded also in pigskin, not very securely attached, but perceptive I am sure.
- I think he is not a sow, because he has never farrowed
- And because he is gentle with small people and not possessive of the cats.
- I brought him under my arm from London by air
- In gay defiance of all airline and government regulations
- (Not strictly accurate, but that’s how I like to think it was);
- I think he enjoyed the flight as much as I did, even though he was leaving his own country.
- He was designed to be used as a footstool or to be sat on, as is therefore worthy of respect.
- From behind he looks as confident as an alderman certain of his constituency.
- From long acquaintance now, of his patient and eager aspect as he stands on guard under the piano
- Or occasionally ventures into the open at Christmas time or driven there for sweeping and cleaning,
- I declare that he is a noble pig, an ornament to any household, worthy of affectionate esteem.
There are two known versions of the poem Pig by George Whalley. The one above is transcribed from a reading by Whalley that was recorded at Queen’s University, Ontario in 1966. Whalley’s biographer, Michael John DiSanto, PhD, told Porkopolis.org that:
Many of the poems [Whalley] recorded that evening differ from the print versions. Whalley’s process of writing sometimes produced a dozen or more drafts of a poem before he completed a version for publication. This is true of Pig.
An alternate published version of the poem is included below. This alternate version appeared in the poetry publication Quarry in 1967.
- And in my household,
- Though well provided with wife, three children, a dog, and two cats
- (The parrot took wing some years ago for the Elysian Fields)
- There is a pig.
- He is called “Pig” simply, for purposes of reference and for ritual salutation,
- Seeing that he is made of pigskin;
- But his shape is improvised not stuffed –
- Stuffed would be too horrible.
- His corkscrew tail is at best a rough
- Parody of a pigs tail;
- His eyes are square buttons, neatly folded, of pigskin, not very securely attached but perspicacious I am sure;
- His ears are like sow’s ears, as large and pendulous
- As blades of assegais heated too long in too hot a fire.
- But I think he is not a sow, because he has never to my knowledge farrowed
- And is gentle with small people and not possessive of the cats.
- Year in year out, in all seasons and through all festivals
- He stands attentive under the piano
- As though he would receive at any moment some half-familiar
- Compliment, command, or notable intelligence
- And respond to it with cheerful alacrity.
- He came here as though by nursery rime
- From his own country
- By air
- Under my arm
- In defiance of airline and government regulation.
- He savoured the flight as much as I did homeward,
- Or the Children of Israel escaping across the great water,
- Tasting already on a fine palate before landfall
- The sparkling light ambiguous bouquet of expatriation.
- For was he not designed to be used as a footstool or to be sat upon?
- He has an interior iron frame,
- And since his destiny is rigid yet decently concealed
- He commands respect when he least appears to seek it.
- For from behind he looks assured self-assured
- Like a decayed aristocrat certain of his heritage or
- An alderman who has no doubts for his constituency.
- From long acquaintance of his patient and eager aspect as
- He stands on guard under the piano
- (O Pig! O Canada!)
- Or ventures on ceremonious occasions forth into the open –
- At Christmas time, or to be admired by a famous guest, or when driven out for sweeping and cleaning –
- I declare that he is a noble and primordial pig, and
- An ornament to this household and to his adopted country
- By reason of his elegant snout, his ingenious unbristled skin, and the half-hooded benison of his little square eye.
- And for the comfort he gives us he is to be honoured
- With the dutiful reverence we accord to those illustrious ancestors
- Whom we never could have known.
In 1968 George Whalley, reviewed the newest book of poetry by his good friend George Johnston, the Canadian poet, translator, and academic. This review of Home Free (1966) originally appeared in Canadian Literature #35 (Winter 1968). In the review, Whalley first had this to say about Johnston’s previous book of poetry, The Cruising Auk:
…and although the Auk poems had been written over a period of ten years or more, the book had the strange consistency of a dream landscape in which figures appear and move with the ambiguous and impassive logic of a Chagall painting. If (for Chagall) pigs are apple-green and the sky mauve, a poet may assume a horizontal posture as wonderfully long and flat as the horizon and his eyes turned to the sky…
About the Poet:
George Whalley (1915-1983), was a Canadian poet, editor, scholar, biographer, and translator, as well as a naval officer and secret intelligence agent during World War II, a CBC broadcaster and a musician.
He obtained his B.A. at Bishop’s University in 1935 and a second B.A. from Oriel College, Oxford in 1939 and an M.A. in 1948 from Bishop’s University. In 1950 he obtained his Ph. D. from King’s College, London. He was a Rhodes scholar for Quebec in 1936.
Whalley taught English at Bishop’s University before joining the faculty at Queen’s University in 1950, where he was twice the head of the department. Among his publications are In the Land of Feast or Famine, Poems 1939-1944 (1946 ), The Legend of John Hornby (1962 ) and Poetic Process (1953).
He edited and wrote the forward for Selected Poems of George Herbert Clarke (1954 ), and also edited Writing in Canada, the publication of the proceedings of the Canadian Writers’ Conference of 1956, Death in the Barren Ground – The Diary of Edgar Christian (1980 ) and A Place of Liberty (1964). [DES-07/14]
- ‘Pig’ was inspired by a pig footstool that Whalley bought in London at Herrods. It did indeed travel under Whalley’s arm from London to Canada in “defiance of all airline and government regulations.” The pig has since made the trip back to England, after many years in Canada, and is kept by the Whalley family in Southwold, England. This is a photo of the actual pig footstool:
- Michael John DiSanto, PhD, Associate Professor of English at Algoma University in Ontario is Whalley’s biographer. DiSanto has developed an extensive website and database of information on Whalley – see here or here – as well as copies of many of his essay, poems, photographs, and poetry readings. This database has been done with the support of the Whalley Estate, the Wishart Library at Algoma University and Editing Modernism in Canada Project (EMiC). You might enjoy:
- The recordings, where Whalley reads many of his poems [Pig is there], often prefacing them with illuminating comments about their origin and significance.
- Mark your calendars… In 2015, a digital edition of some of Whalley’s poetry, manuscripts and typescripts will be published on the site to coincide with a new print edition of his poems, all to celebrate the centenary of George Whalley’s birth on 25 July 2015. The poetry papers for “Pig” will be included in the digital edition.