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The Christian doctrine of “The Rapture” and Calvin’s “Preordained Selection” are subverted in the predatory imagery of this poem. There is nothing resembling ecstatic delight to be found as prey in the clutches of a raptor, and there is more than a little sense of being duped when chosen by God only to find an omnipotent “yellow-eyed glare.” Poignancy and courage imbue the lines if the reader knows that the poet has, for a number of years now, been living with and fighting cancer. It increases the dread of “One midnight, you imagine, you’ll be swept up, / a mouse off a toadstool, shrieking into the air.” …

The Christian doctrine of “The Rapture” and Calvin’s “Preordained Selection” are subverted in the predatory imagery of this poem. There is nothing resembling ecstatic delight to be found as prey in the clutches of a raptor, and there is more than a little sense of being duped when chosen by God only to find an omnipotent “yellow-eyed glare.” Poignancy and courage imbue the lines if the reader knows that the poet has, for a number of years now, been living with and fighting cancer. It increases the dread of “One midnight, you imagine, you’ll be swept up, / a mouse off a toadstool, shrieking into the air.”


The Christian doctrine of “The Rapture” and Calvin’s “Preordained Selection” are subverted in the predatory imagery of this poem. There is nothing resembling ecstatic delight to be found as prey in the clutches of a raptor, and there is more than a little sense of being duped when chosen by God only to find an omnipotent “yellow-eyed glare.” Poignancy and courage imbue the lines if the reader knows that the poet has, for a number of years now, been living with and fighting cancer. It increases the dread of “One midnight, you imagine, you’ll be swept up, / a mouse off a toadstool, shrieking into the air.”
In this context, Calvin’s Institutes of 1559 which propose that God determines “by his eternal and immutable counsel… those whom it was his pleasure one day to admit to salvation… [or] doom to destruction” meet derision. No matter which way the spin doctors twist it, the elected die. An entirely sinister business no matter what.
Partridge never lets the reader forget it, giving a stanza each to the heron’s patience, the eagle’s scowl, and the owl’s swoop. Even the innocuous robin doesn’t get away with being benign. Red breast and sky-blue eggs notwithstanding, he “snap[s] you wormlike” from the safety and normalcy of your “white-fenced yard.”
The imagery of the first two stanzas pecks the reader with the consonance of the line ends: week, beak, rock, duck, and flock; then, in the penultimate line, this hard k locks its “icepick talons” around a feeble mouse (echoes of Robert Burns reverberating). In contrast, the last two stanzas open to the assonances of guard, yard, shrieking, tweed, air and glare. The monosyllabic verbs–jab, stab, gulp, hunch, scoop and snap–imbue the lines with darting movements, capturing that jittery quality of birds.
Partridge chooses enjambment to move the line from the first stanza to the second–again employing monosyllables–accelerating the poem and creating that startling effect of the predator’s inevitable thrust: “then with one jab of his beak // stab you and gulp.” Without a second to let that image sink, she gives the reader, “Or a bald eagle…” quickly moving the poem to the unhappy demise of a newborn duck.
Duck and mouse: both victims are downy creatures, their vulnerability charged with their tactile and visual appeal. Even the unappealing worm, quietly (though not quietly enough, it seems) going about his business of putting the earth to rights underground, garners a sympathetic response.
Clearly, there is no answer to the “Why me?” question. Not to the “When me?” question either. Partridge’s images, together with the shift in tense from the past in the first stanza to the simple future in the last, underscore all we can know. We are powerless. And ever in the present–death waits.

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