The Two-Headed Calf Poem by Laura Gilpin

The Two-Headed Calf is a small poem that evokes complex emotions amongst people. It is a brief glimpse of life, expressed strangely. Nature is ephemeral. The poem leaves you with a sense of serenity.

By Richard Williams ~

Two Headed Calf v2

Poetry is one of the oldest ways of expression. Poetry has been man’s companion since the birth of humanity. Every era in our history has blessed the world with gifted poets and writers.

The Two Headed Calf – By Laura Gilpin

Tomorrow when the farm boys find this
freak of nature, they will wrap his body
in newspaper and carry him to the museum.
But tonight he is alive and in the north
field with his mother. It is a perfect
summer evening: the moon rising over
the orchard, the wind in the grass. And
as he stares into the sky, there are
twice as many stars as usual.

Laura Gilpin was born in 1950. She introduced a dynamic style of poetry. She wrote ‘The hocus-pocus’ and ‘The weight of the soul. Her poetry uses simple words that have a profound effect on the readers

About the poem

‘The Two-Headed Calf’ by Laura Gilpin is a unique poem of its kind where the writer makes you feel horrified by the fate of the calf at the same time you find true happiness because a newborn calf is receiving unconditional love from his mother. The poem is an escape from the fictitious world that we live in. It mirrors our thoughts and emotions. Emotions do not flood our lives daily. They play in the background and influence the way we think. We live the harsh reality of who we are and learn to enjoy the moment we live in.

Analysis of the poem 

Countless times we find ourselves in situations that we never dreamed of. In the poem – The Two-Headed Calf the poet speaks about this incident in a casual tone but with a great depth of expression. The poem does not follow traditional writing style as it conveys natural and free thoughts that might have crossed all our minds. Initially, the poem speaks about how entitled humans are to feel the need to put the souvenirs that nature gives us behind plastic cases. 

We treat them as admirable exhibits. Moreover, the poet uses the crude expression ‘body.’ It shows the superiority that we feel by differentiating between our mind, soul, and body. Other lesser beings are simply bodies to us. However, the newborn calf can enjoy his life for one night in its mother’s warmth and unconditional love away from such thoughts.

A brief description of nature unfolds the scene before us making it a visual delight for all of us who miss the farmlands, the lazy breeze, and the buzzing of crickets at night. We live in a day and age where the pronouns we choose matter. The poet astutely specifies the pronoun of the calf. 

‘He’ here is used to specify that even though the life of the calf is short, he has his own identity which must be respected. The mother is fully aware that her calf might not be alive to see the stars again. Regardless she shares a bond of pure love and peace with him.

In the final lines of the poem. The poet hints at the reason for the dark and abrupt end of the calf’s life. The meaning of the twice the normal stars is the two-headed calf which is viewing the miraculous twinkling nights through two pairs of eyes.

To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.
– J. K. Rowling

What can we take away from this poem?

In the grand scheme of things, we all are insignificant. We are constantly so stressed about our future that we simply fail to live in the present. Unlike the calf, most of us will be fortunate to live many more nights. Regardless the calf learned to enjoy the moment which is something that many of us do not understand in a lifetime. 

The poem also expresses the joy and simplicity of trivial things. In the end, it is not about the wealth and the riches that we accumulate but whether we are at peace with ourselves and the world. Life will continue to surprise us. We can take insurance and even wear a lifejacket but that is not going to safeguard us from death. In the end, let us take a moment to appreciate the world around us, spare some time with the people we love, and have no regrets accompanying us on the final journey.

‘’Do not pity the dead.Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love.” – JK Rowling

How did the world react to this poem?

The poem has been a revelation across social media platforms. It has gathered a fan following of people who have put up art, designs, tattoo, and posts related to the poem. Especially, the two-headed calf tattoo became famous among people. People were so moved by the poem that they drew two headed calf tattoo as a reminder to live life in present. Even though the poem has been composed a long time ago, people are resonating with the gravity of this abstract poem today. 

It is not just the sympathy that we feel for the calf or the unimaginable grief of the mother, but it is the realization of joy, sorrow, and peace too.

Some people sobbed after reading the poem while others felt numb. The messages that people took home ranged from identifying oneself, animal rights, love for nature, body positivity, etc. One thing was quite clear though. The poem opened the eyes of the reader which transforms the way we perceive the world.

It was not just the poetic world that resonated with the poem. Many people interpreted the poem and expressed the poem in the form of graphics, tattoos, fan art, etc.

The strange way people related to the poem is visible in the following comments on Reddit.

The Reddit community produced their own interpretations and thoughts.

What did you experience when you read the poem? How did it make you feel? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you.


Heather Arrington

Wonderful write-up 💗. One of my favorite poems. I’ll never forget how hard I sobbed the first time I read it.

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