Thomas Hardy Wagtail and Baby Comprehension

Wagtail and Baby


Thomas Hardy’s “Wagtail and Baby” tells the simple story of a wagtail’s reactions to different creatures who come to a river. When a loud bull and a muscular stallion splash through the water, the bird continues to drink and clean its feathers. It does not even feel threatened by a dangerous dog. However, when a “perfect gentleman” approaches, it immediately “disappeared” in “terror” from the “ford”.

The innocent baby, who was watching the scene, learns that people are the most threatening of all the creatures. Frist published in 1907, Hardy’s criticism of the devastating impact of industrial pollution on the natural world remains an important message today and the debate surrounding climate change.

Wagtail and Baby

A baby watched a ford, whereto
A wagtail came for drinking;
A blaring bull went wading through,
The wagtail showed no shrinking.

A stallion splashed his way across,
The birdie nearly sinking;
He gave his plumes a twitch and toss,
And held his own unblinking.

Next saw the baby round the spot
A mongrel slowly slinking;
The wagtail gazed, but faltered not
In dip and sip and prinking

A perfect gentleman then neared;
The wagtail, in a winking,
With terror rose and disappeared;
The baby fell a-thinking.

Comprehension Questions

  1. What is a wagtail?
  2. Where is the poem set?
  3. Look the second line of the poem. What is the wagtail doing?
  4. What adjective does the poet use to describe the bull? What does it suggest about that animal?
  5. How does the wagtail react to the noisy bull?
  6. How does the wagtail react to the stallion?
  7. In the second stanza, we are told how the wagtail “gave his plumes a twitch and toss’”. There is a reference to the bird “prinking” in the third stanza. What is the wagtail more concerned about than the other animals?
  8. How does the wagtail react to the arrival of ‘a perfect gentleman’?
  9. How is this different from its reaction to the other creatures?
  10. The final line focuses back on the baby. What might the baby be thinking at the end?
  11. What do you think is the message of the poem?

Form and Structure

  1. How is the poem divided?
  2. How many lines are in each stanza?
  3. How many syllables are in each line?
  4. What is the rhyme scheme of each stanza?
  5. Why has Hardy chosen this particular structure and rhythm?

Close Analysis

Look at the line “A mongrel slowly slinking”. What sounds are being repeated? Suggest why is the poet creating this particular rhythm here?

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