The Animals in That Country Poem by Margaret Atwood Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English for Students


The poem “The Animals in That Country” is written by Margaret Atwood. The poem talks about the lives of the natives of Canada. It gives the reader the historical context of the country through the perspective of the original inhabitants. In this poem, the poet metaphorically compares the savage nature of the animals to the hideous instincts of the white settlers who colonized the country. She talks about how they are no better than animals. Just like an animal only forces on his own needs and desires, the white settlers too only cared about themselves and in their selfishness and greed they exploited and destroyed the indigenous culture of the land.

About the poet

Margaret Eleanor Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa, Canada. She is a Canadian writer, poet, critic and teacher. She is also an inventor. She is also the founder of the Griffin Poetry Prize and the Writer’s Trust of Canada. She has written and pun;joshed numerous books and poetry collections. Some of her writings have also won many awards like the Booker Prize, the Franz Kafka Prize and the National Book Critics award. Some of her most notable works include “The Handmaid’s Tale”, “The Blind Assassin” and “The Testaments”.


The poem is written in free-verse. The poem harbors many of the elements of modernism. There is no set structure of the poem, the lines are divided into stanzas with no discernible pattern. The last four stanzas are indented in order to highlight the transition in the narrative.

Lines 1-8

In that country the animals

have the faces of people:

the ceremonial

cats possessing the streets

the fox run

politely to earth, the huntsmen

standing around him, fixed

in their tapestry of manners


In these lines, the speaker describes a country where animals metaphorically take on human faces. She talks about how they are animals but they have the face of or behaviors similar to animals. The ceremonial cats, representing the settlers, assert their dominance over the streets. They possess the lands and rule over it. While the fox, possibly symbolizing the indigenous people, hide and run to escape, while the huntsmen, referring to the settlers, encircle him with a fixed tapestry of manners. This highlights how the white settlers asserted their control over the indigenous culture and manners.


In these lines, the poet creates a metaphorical landscape where animals take on human qualities, symbolizing the cultural clash between settlers and natives. The ceremonial cats, embodying the settlers, dominate the streets, reflecting their control over the land. The fox, likely representing the indigenous people, runs discreetly, and the huntsmen, symbolizing the settlers, encircle him with rigid manners, portraying the imposition of their cultural tapestry. The poet uses vivid imagery in these lines to illustrate the power dynamics and clash of manners between the white settlers and the indigenous population in Canada.

Lines 9-20

the bull, embroidered

with blood and given

an elegant death, trumpets, his name

stamped on him, heraldic brand


(when he rolled

on the sand, sword in his heart, the teeth

in his blue mouth were human)

he is really a man

even the wolves, holding resonant

conversations in their

forests thickened with legend.


In these lines, the speaker describes a bull, embroidered with blood, receiving an elegant death in a heraldic ceremony. Despite the elaborate spectacle, the speaker reveals a haunting truth – when the bull rolled on the sand with a sword in his heart, his blue mouth with human-like teeth suggests a deeper connection to humanity. The speaker extends this idea to wolves, stating that even they, in their legendary forests, engage in resonant conversations. The speaker highlights how beneath the symbolic rituals, there’s an underlying humanity shared with animals.


In these lines, the poet uses vivid imagery to depict a ceremonious death of a bull, emphasizing the symbolic nature of the event. After the bull has been killed and heralded with an elegant death, when he falls on the ground with the sword in his heart we can see human teeth in the bull’s mouth. The bull’s mouth with human-like teeth suggests a shared mortality, blurring the lines between what is human and what is animal. The poet’s mention of wolves engaging in resonant conversations adds to the theme of shared experiences in the natural world. She uses symbolism and metaphor to convey a deeper connection between humans and animals, challenging conventional boundaries.

Lines 21-29

In this country the animals

            have the faces of


            Their eyes

            flash once in car headlights

            and are gone.

            Their deaths are not elegant.

            They have the faces of



In the last part, the speaker repeats how animals in this country just look like animals. They don’t have human-like qualities or symbolism. This brief presence of humanity is seen only when car headlights catch their eyes, but it’s a fleeting moment. Unlike the earlier bull with a ceremonious death, these animals meet a more straightforward and unadorned end. Their faces represent no one in particular, highlighting their simple and anonymous existence.


In the final stanza, the poet contrasts the previous ceremonial death of the bull with a stark reality. She says that in this country the animals simply have the faces of animals. They do not have any humanity left in them. Their humanity is briefly noticeable when their eyes are illuminated by car headlights. And after that, it disappears forever. Unlike the earlier bull, their deaths are not adorned with elegance or ceremony. The animals have faces of no one, emphasizing their anonymity and the brutal simplicity of their lives and deaths. This stark portrayal serves as a poignant conclusion to the poem, underscoring the raw and unadorned reality of the natural world.