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Cetacean Summary & Analysis
by Peter Reading

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"Cetacean" was written by the contemporary British poet Peter Reading and published in his 2002 collection Faunal. The poem describes a boat trip to "observe" blue whales off the coast of San Francisco, and, for the most part, is relatively unsentimental and spare in its tone. At the same time, the poem conveys a sense of awe and wonder at the sight of the whales, even as the speaker attempts to quantify the experience using mathematical measurements and logical, scientific observations. The whales are gone almost as quickly as they appear, leaving behind an atmosphere of mystery surrounding the natural world. Some interpretations also view the poem as a kind of extended metaphor for the creative process itself, noting that moments of artistic inspiration are at once powerful and fleeting.

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