In the two poems, the poets use the elephants to symbolize the profoundness of events that happen in their lives. They choose the elephant because of real life characteristics that set apart elephants from other creatures. The elephant has been in existence for a long time and therefore the term “elephant” is symbolic. They use the elephants to allude to milestones in their past or present lives, as we shall see below.
What is the elephant?
In the poem “Elephant eternity”, the elephant can be said to be representative of the whole aspect of childhood. It does not refer to a particular point in time but rather the whole process of childhood. It is a continuous process that everyone goes through; “Elephants walking like time” (par, 1), and “time walking like elephants” (par, 3). The mention of the intertwinement of elephants and time suggest that the elephant’s walk does not obey the rules of time. In addition, the mention of different landscapes alludes to the universality of childhood.
As for the second poem, “washing the elephant”, the allusion is more diverse to different events that took place in the poet’s past. The elephant could even be representative of her life. This makes the second poet’s elephants more specific to her life experiences. The elephant mentioned at the beginning of Ras’s poem is one that she wishes to wash up. “Isn’t it always the heart that wants to wash the elephant?” (Par, 1).
In the subsequent paragraphs, we see the elephant being dragged through crammed tunnels, streets then being led to a circus where it is paraded for the public to see. The poet uses a resentful tone when describing these events. “If guilt is the damage of childhood, then Eros is the fall of adolescence” (Par, 4).
Attitude of the poet towards the elephants
In the poem “elephant eternity”, the poet has a positive view towards the elephants. This claim is backed by the manner in which he describes the elephants. This poet pours a lot of glory on the elephants. “Strong and gentle elephants” (Par, 1) and “strong and gentle peace” (Par, 4).
This suggests that the poet cherishes childhood and finds solace in it. For this reason, he associates feelings of happiness and security with the presence of the elephants. Mitchell wants his audience to know that children should seek and find solace in their childhood.
When it comes to “washing the elephant”, the poet’s attitude is a more regretful one. The first reason I say so is the manner in which she speaks of her interactions with the elephant in a manner suggesting that she wishes she had more control of the circumstances that surrounding her in the different stages with her life.
Starting with her childhood, we see that her obviously unbelieving parents “imagining their souls like sponges full of something resembling street water after rain” (Par, 2) often compelled her to go for confession as we see in Par 3 “Still my mother sent me every Saturday to confess”
Mitchell, Adrian. Elephant Eternity: Children’s Poetry Archive. Web. 08 Feb 2012
Ras, Barbara. Washing the Elephant. The New Yorker. Web. 08 Feb 2012.