Departmental : by Robert Frost || Analysis

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Departmental

An ant on the tablecloth
Ran into a dormant moth
Of many times his size.
He showed not the least surprise.
His business wasn't with such.
He gave it scarcely a touch,
And was off on his duty run.
Yet if he encountered one
Of the hive's enquiry squad
Whose work is to find out God
And the nature of time and space,
He would put him onto the case.
Ants are a curious race;
One crossing with hurried tread
The body of one of their dead
Isn't given a moment's arrest-
Seems not even impressed.
But he no doubt reports to any
With whom he crosses antennae,
And they no doubt report
To the higher-up at court.
Then word goes forth in Formic:
'Death's come to Jerry McCormic,
Our selfless forager Jerry.
Will the special Janizary
Whose office it is to bury
The dead of the commissary
Go bring him home to his people.
Lay him in state on a sepal.
Wrap him for shroud in a petal.
Embalm him with ichor of nettle.
This is the word of your Queen.'
And presently on the scene
Appears a solemn mortician;
And taking formal position,
With feelers calmly atwiddle,
Seizes the dead by the middle,
And heaving him high in air,
Carries him out of there.
No one stands round to stare.
It is nobody else's affair
It couldn't be called ungentle
But how thoroughly departmental

An ant on the tablecloth Ran into a dormant moth Of many times his size. He showed not the least surprise. His business wasn't with such. He gave it scarcely a touch, And was off on his duty run.
Departmental

Analysis

Introduction:

      Subtitled The End of My Ant Jerry, this humorous poem of Frost, is from A Further Range. Frost presents the ant colony as a miniature society and thus reveals the resemblance between the stultifying effects of departmentalism among men and the blindly mechanical operators of insect life.

Development of Thought:

      In the poem Departmental, human society is viewed through the analogy of an ant-hive, and we are made to see the absurdity of man's allegiance to an impersonal social order by watching the ants as they discover the death of one of their workers. An ant on the tablecloth runs into a moth much larger than himself, but pays no attention to the moth - for ants are a strange race and will pay no attention even to the dead body of a fellow ant, though they will report the matter to all ants met on the way. An account of the funeral of Jerry MeCormic, a dead ant, follows. Behind the humour is the satire on standardisation and regimentation. The whole affair is so "thoroughly departmental", laments the poet.

Critical Remarks:

      The humour is actually a means of portraying such serious matters as the blinding effects of custom and the indifference of the group to the individual. There is savage irony at the expense of governmental red tape in the instructions for Jerry's burial, the mortician ant's cold professionalism, and the general indifference of the public. The poem is funny precisely because it explores the resemblance between ants and men so thoroughly.

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