Muriel Spark’s brief, wry poem “The Goose” isn’t about a worldwide financial meltdown. And it’s not one of those buck-you-up poems like Rudyard Kipling’s “If –” that reminds you that if you can keep your head when all others are losing theirs, you can recover from that double-digit loss to your (401)k plan.
But “The Goose” speaks memorably to surviving financial hardship. Spark wrote the poem around 1960 — the exact date is unknown — or less than a decade after Britain ended the food rationing adopted in World War II. “The Goose” has just eight lines, which begin:
Do you want to know why I am alive today?
I will tell you.
The speaker says that in a food shortage, “Some of us were miraculously presented” with a goose that laid a golden egg. The narrator admits to having killed and eaten the goose. The poem then ends with the lines:
Alas, many and many of the other recipients
Died of gold-dust poisoning.
You can interpret “The Goose” in several ways. Spark had survived food shortages, and you can read the poem as an autobiographical commentary on her life and work. Or you can read it as a Catholic writer’s religious allegory that uses “goose that laid a golden egg” ironically: The goose is spiritual food or, more specifically, the Eucharist, that others rejected.
The poem also works as a parable about the follies of chasing financial or other golden eggs, whether in the form of junk bonds, subprime mortgages or golden parachutes for executives of bankrupt companies. If you read it that way, “The Goose” is about valuing survival ahead of the promise of future riches. How many financial institutions have died of “gold-dust poisoning” because they put wealth ahead of staying alive?
Copyright laws don’t permit quoting “The Goose” in full here. But it appears in All the Poems of Muriel Spark (New Directions, 130 pp., $13.95, paperback), a collection of all of Spark’s light and other verse. And Ian Sansom quotes the full text of “The Goose” in a 2004 Guardian review of the book books.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,5082333-110738,00.html. The Complete Review has posted its own review at
You can read about the Edinburgh-born Muriel Spark (1918–2006) in the attractive online Spark archive National Library of Scotland www.nls.uk/murielsptheark/index.html. A review of Spark’s best-known novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, appears at
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.