Cetacean Poem By Peter Reading Summary, Notes And Line By Line Analysis In English


The poem describes a voyage and the speakers’ observations of blue whales off the coast of Farallones. He explains the whales’ movements in an interesting and mathematical manner. He also chronicles the whales’ departure with great detail.

About The Poet

Peter Reading, a contemporary British poet, wrote “Cetacean,” which was published in 2002. He was born on July 27, 1976, in Liverpool, England. He studied painting at Liverpool College of Arts and authored a total of 26 books of poetry.

Lines 1-6

Out of Fisherman’s Wharf, San Fransisco, Sunday, early,
our vessel, bow to stern, some sixty-three feet,
to observe Blue Whales – and we did, off the Farallones.
   They were swimming slowly, and rose at a shallow angle
(they were grey as slate with white mottling, dorsals tiny and stubby,
   with broad flat heads at least one quarter their overall body lengths).

The speaker begins by explaining the setting and location. “San Fransico, Sunday, early,” he further describes his vessel and approximates it to be “some sixty-three feet” from front to back. After spotting the whales he specifies that “they were swimming slowly,” and they emerged from the water “at a shallow angle”. He continues to detail their physical characteristics and notes “they were grey” in colour and had “white mottling”.

Lines 7 – 12

They blew as soon as their heads began to break the surface.
	The blows were as straight and slim as upright columns
	rising to thirty feet in vertical props.
Then their heads disappeared underwater, and the lengthy, rolling
expanse of their backs hove into our view – about twenty feet longer
	than the vessel herself.

The speaker further observed that “as soon as their heads” came out to the surface, the whales expelled air through their blowholes, creating “straight and slim” jets streams that looked like construction columns. These reached an elevation of “thirty feet.” Soon after, the whales dove back into the sea, spanning approximately “twenty feet” longer than the boat.

Lines 13 – 19

And then the diminutive dorsals
showed briefly, after the blows had dispersed and the heads had
	gone under.
Then they arched their backs, then arched their tail stocks ready
       	for diving.
Then the flukes were visible just before the creatures vanished,
   slipping into the deep again, at a shallow angle.

Shortly, whales’ short dorsal fins were visible to the group as the whales “heads had gone under”. The whales “arched their backs” and tails at this moment, preparing to dive deeper into the ocean. The speaker further adds, “the flukes were visible”, the upper part of the whales before they slipped back into the deep again “at a shallow angle”.