An ant on the tablecloth Ran into a dormant moth Of many times his size. He showed not the least surprise. His business wasnt with such. He gave it scarcely a touch, And was off on his duty run. Yet if he encountered one Of the hives enquiry squad Whose work is to find out GodAnd 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 Isnt given a moments arrest- Seems not even impressed. But he no doubt reports to anyWith whom he crosses antennae, And they no doubt report To the higher-up at court.
Then word goes forth in Formic:"Deaths 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 elses affair. It couldnt be called ungentle.But how thoroughly departmental.
Analysis of “Departmental” Summary The poem begins with focus on a single ant and his encounter with a moth. The focus switches at the line “Ants are a curious race” (13) to looking at the society of the ants. Conceit There is an extended metaphor throughout the poem comparing the ants to humans.
Personification One ant is referred to as “He” (4). Another ant is named “Jerry McCormic” (23). There are some ants “Whose work is to find out god/ And the nature of time and space” (10- 11). These are human-like interests. The ants have jobs. “His business wasn’t with such” (5). Ants have burial rituals. “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” (29-32).
Jerry McCormic Called “Our selfless forager” (24). The ants sympathize, relate and care for Jerry. However, he is “nobody else’s affair” (42). The ants also appear to distance themselves from Jerry. Little emotion appears to be involved. Theants focus only on themselves and their duties. “Thebody of one of their dead/Isnt given a moments arrest-/Seems not even impressed” (15-17). The ants seem unaffected by the death. They continue about their jobs without pausing for even a moment.
Work Diction “business” (5), “office” (6), “duty” (7), “work” (10), “case” (12), “reports” (18). This emphasizes that the ants focus completely on their jobs, and push everything else to the side. Ants’ View of Death “Death’s come to Jerry McCormic” (23). Since death simply came, it is seen as inevitable and as a normal occurrence. This description of Jerry’s death also lacks emotion because of it’s simplicity. The mortician “solemn” (35), “formal” (36),“calmly” (37). The process of preparing Jerry for burial is very orderly and occurs without emotion.
Language The word choice is simple and to the point. This connects to the view of ants as simple creatures, who just do their jobs. Rhyme There is an AABB rhyme scheme. This orderly, patterned rhyme scheme is connected to the perspective of the ants as departmental, simplistic, and organized. Punctuation There is normal punctuation at the completion of each thought, creating normal breaks throughout the poem. This can symbolize the everyday lives of the ants, which also keep a regular pace.
“It couldnt be called ungentle./But how thoroughly departmental” (43-44). Couldn’t be called ungentle by whom? Humans? Humans may not call the ants’ actions ungentle because they can relate to their viewpoint. Along with the ants, people can also distance themselves from others and choose to focus solely on themselves and their duties. Ants? They would not consider their actions ungentle since this is normal for them. This view of death and these reactions are part of their lives, so they would not find issue with them. Couldn’t be called ungentle compared to what? Human view of life and death? The ants care and respect for their dead and give them proper burials. There are many examples throughout history of humans not doing the same for their own dead. Compared to humans, ants may be seen as more gentle.
Definition of “Great Poetry”“If I read a book and it makes my wholebody so cold no fire can warm me, I knowthat is poetry. If I feel physically as if the topof my head were taken off, I know that ispoetry. These are the only ways I know it. Isthere any other way?” -Emily Dickinson
Is “Departmental” great? It is a great poem. It allows one to experience a situation, and not just read about it. The reader is able to understand the point of view of an ant, while also learning about the human race. This poem shines light on the fact that humans are like ants and are insignificant in a wider perspective. A total focus on oneself and work may be natural to some people, but Frost’s criticism of it is definitely justified since it can harm one’s attitude towards other people. This poem, obviously, has a great deal of depth to it, while using relatively straightforward language and imagery, so I would certainly consider it great.