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I was reading The Intruder by James Reeves. I couldn't understand the meaning of the following lines

Longears helter-skelter shoots
Into his house among the roots.

At work upon the highest bark,
Tapperbill knocks off to hark.

Painted-wings through sun and shade
Flounces off along the glade.

What is a longears or a tapperbill? What does he mean when using the word Painted-wings? Being a non-native English speaker, I could not understand the terms used. Can anyone shine a light on this?

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    It's worth noting that poetry in general, and this poem in particular, tends towards non-standard usages. Even a native speaker can struggle to understand a poem. With that said, @txteclipse's answer is quite good. Oct 10, 2014 at 19:07
  • In essence those are proper names rather than words. Here these names evoke the animal so named (somewhat), but if the sentence was "Janus Bahs Jacquet helter-skelter shoots into his house" then you would not ask what Janus means.
    – Oldcat
    Oct 10, 2014 at 20:22

2 Answers 2

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Those phrases are synechdoches for three different animals.

synechdoche

a figure of speech in which a term for a part of something refers to the whole of something, or vice versa.

Wikipedia

"Longears" most likely refers to a rabbit, "tapperbill" refers to a woodpecker, and "painted-wings" refers to a bird, possibly a mockingbird or other bird with patterned wings.

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    My first thought was that painted-wings must be a butterfly. Oct 10, 2014 at 19:02
  • Good point. I've also just realized that it's probably not a mockingbird, since James Reeves was British and mockingbirds are native to the New World. Oct 10, 2014 at 19:06
  • +1. My guess is that part of the difficulty understanding this poem is that you need to be familiar with the animals it refers to. Oct 10, 2014 at 19:08
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    "Painted wing" is often used in reference to a butterflies. It explains "flounce" as the choice to describe its movement.
    – IAmNaN
    Oct 11, 2014 at 16:48
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James Reeves wrote a lot of poems for children. I haven't had the time to search for the whole poem, but this looks like fun poetry for young children in the style of "The cow jumped over the moon".

There are fantasy figures in this poem, first Longears, perhaps an animal with long ears such as a hare or a rabbit, then Tapperbill, one can only guess who or what that figure is. "to tap" can mean to hit lightly and as the word bark follows it might be a bird, perhaps a woodpecker. Painted-wings is a third figure, might be a flying insect, perhaps a butterfly or a dragonfly.

If you have problems with a poem you should first find some information about the author to see what kind of poems he writes. If you google for James Reeves you'll get a lot of information.Then you should see some of his poems to get an idea about his topics or the genre of his poems. And when you have questions as to a poem you should give a link to the whole poem and not only indicate three or four lines. From a fragment of a poem it is difficult to give reasonable information.

If I had to say something about the proper names of the animals in this poem I would say they are "speaking names", that is proper names that refer to a typical characteristic of a person or in our case here of animals.

The poem with the line "The cow jumped over the moon" has the first line "Hey diddle diddle", and en.wikipedia has some information about this funny nursery rhyme from about 1700 under "Hey diddle diddle".

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  • I agree with you. I'll do some research on the author.
    – Abichellam
    Oct 11, 2014 at 5:00

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