Sparked Love, A Fused Flame; The Passionate Love for Chow

Dominique Banks

Victorian animals held a sacred place in the daily lives of humans because they helped create natural relationships and stressed the importance of emotional bonds. Michael Field, in particular, explored the human/animal relationship and highlighted the importance of companionship, diving into what it means to love an animal in Whym Chow: Flame of Love. The interchangeable relationship between Katharine Bradley, Edith Cooper and Whym Chow reinvents the intensity of love by comparing their passion to a flame. The intensity of human/animal encounters described in the poetry of Whym Chow challenges the idea of humanistic love.  

Michael Field’s relationship with Whym Chow opened the discussion of physical relationships between humans and animals, illustrated clearly in the poem “Trinity.” Trinity means three tied into one; religious teaching further explains this connection by stating how God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are three different entities united in one. Michael Field and their connection to Whym Chow was sacred and “Thy Own” (line 6). The poem allows us to distinctly see the close relationship between humans and animals that challenged the humanistic thought of relationships with animals. Field’s connection to God and their relationship with Chow illustrates that animals were placed in this world for a reason by God; they were not, Field argues, placed on this earth with humans to only be used for profit. Michael Field finds a different direction to showcase how human/animal relationships hold a kind of religious sacredness.

Through their poetry, Michael Field shows how a relationship between animals and humans provides positive impact on human relationships and underscores the importance of animals and their purpose. Reading these poems, we can ask: what is the meaning of attachment to an animal? Or what bond can an animal bring to a human or even a family? Whym Chow effectively showcases the joyous connection between humans and animals—as well as the union between Bradley and Cooper—in their descriptions of Whym Chow. The dog is portrayed through a materialistic lens that allows Michael Field to vocally express their established relationship. In Poem XIII, “My Cup,” Field explains their bitterness towards Chow now that he has transitioned from earth to heaven, leaving Field without their beloved. It’s like drinking from a cup that is now empty and no longer able to fulfill that person’s need. The relationship that is revealed within their poetry demonstrates an interchangeable passion for their dog and one another. 

Colleen Glenney Boggs opens her idea of attachment between the human and animal with a question: “what would it mean to embrace human attachment to animals in joyful avowal? It is precisely this question that Michael Field addresses in Whym Chow, a volume that reorients our understanding of “‘everyday life’ by exploring how the effect that crosses species lines might open up [the subjectivity and kinship]” (Boggs).  We are able to analyze what that joyous attachment was like, for example, in “Liberal Love.” From the title, we automatically think Field is centering their focus around the intensity of their love for Whym Chow. But, in fact, the poem foretells of the complete and abundant attachment between the Fields and Whym Chow: “So was thy love, O little heart, complete / In gift of fire! Ideal was the scope / Of plentitude, of freedom from all hope” (lines 17-19).
The nineteenth century saw an increased interest in the domestication of animals and, in their poetry, Michael Field develops both this platonic relationship with animals, and the symbolic representation of their own love. Keridiana W. Chez, in Victorian Dogs, Victorian Men, proclaims that the love between humans and dogs is powerful, stating that “[h]umans and dogs have sparked a powerful, moving affect: relationships of love and power inextricably bound up in the discourse of “man’s best friend” (pg. 150). Using the symbol of a flame, they effectively showcase the symbolic connection of their love for one another and Whym Chow. Through the intensity of their emotion, Michael Field expand the domains of love and the importance of certain emotions like love, compassion and sympathy.  The meaning of “Love” may be demonstrated differently by people: it can be shown through affection, acts of service, words of affirmation, or quality time. For Michael Field, love is defined as an intense feeling of deep affection. Love is like a flame. In Poem XXII, Field describes the love they had together, setting the spark of their relationship like a flame that effortlessly lit their world. 

The flame is symbolic of a never-ending burst of intense love between Bradley, Cooper, and Whym Chow. David Banash expands on this idea of intensity: “Insofar as the Chow is presented as an affective animal, it is not a dog at all, but rather an abstract set of effects. In these poems, the dog becomes a body capable of sustaining a love intensity comparable to a flame” (199). It is that the lovers “reinvent and enact their passion through the mediating body of their beloved dog” (Banash 198). Through their poetry, Michael Field reveals the interchangeability of emotion that can be used to redefine and reify the idea of love for animals, and one another.
Animals served a variety of purposes in the Victorian era, but Michael Field provides a better understanding of the sentimental purpose that animals served for humans. The relationship between species allows for an open discussion of how Whym Chow and Michael Field relied upon the significance of the human/animal relationship and explored the multitude of representations and meanings created by the bonds of love.

Works Cited

Banash, David. “To the Other: The Animal and Desire in Michael Field’s Whym Chow: Flame of Love.” (2005).

Boggs, Glenney Colleen. “ Love Triangle with Dog: Whym Chow, the “Michael Fields,” and the Poetic Potential of Human-Animal Bonds.” Animalities: Literary and Cultural Studies Beyond the Human, University Press Scholarship Online, 2018.

Chez, Keridiana W. Victorian Dogs, Victorian Men: Affect and Animals in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture. Ohio State University Press, 2017.

Moine, Fabienne. Women Poets in the Victorian Era: Cultural Practices and Nature Poetry. Routledge, 2019.

Thain, Marion and Ana Parejo Vadillo, eds. Introduction. Michael Field: The Poet. Broadview, 2008. 23-52.