This little pig went to market
This little pig stayed home
This little pig had roast beef
This little pig had none
And this little pig cried wee, wee, wee all the way home.
THERE it is. Deceptively simple, Annie Minnous's great work, the
"Little Pig Poem," immortalized on the toes and hearts of untold
multitudes, conceals beneath its smooth surface a subtle complexity
belied by the lyric purity of its lines. The amphiboly of the title
is only a foretaste of the conundrum of the whole.
Historically, of course, its value cannot be measured, for it is
perhaps the first piece of literature in the Western world designed
for multi-media presentation. This fact alone deserves more than the
cursory analysis which has heretofore attended it.
Toes are an integral part of this great work, adding not only
breadth of vision and a certain architectonic quality, but also a
sense of deep personal involvement. Although this facet has long
been recognized among critics, its central mystery has been left
unplumbed. What is it about toes which gives this poem its joie de
vivre, its je ne sais quoi, its peculiar and undeniable charm?
It can be seen in a moment that fingers would not do. The poem
would grow flat almost at once. Unhappily, an indepth discussion of
this aspect of the poem is beyond the scope of this exegesis. (It
deserves a Master's thesis, at the very least. One possible angle of
exploring this issue might be the interesting fact that pigs
themselves have no toes, but instead a cloven hoof.)
Another facet of the multidimensional quality of this work is
that it is inherently communal. The poem, in short, does not "work"
when recited alone. The propinquity of a second person is absolutely
vital. It is then that the real magic of the verse becomes apparent.
No one, it seems, is immune to the essential power of the Little Pig
Poem when it is properly presented. It forces a response from even
the most toughened critic.
Yet, ultimately, these qualities are really peripheral to the
great work itself. It is immediately apparent, even to the most
casual reader, that even stated baldly, coldly, whitely on paper,
the Little Pig Poem is indeed monumental. It seethes, nay, boils
with understatement, delicious ambiguity, fullness. There is not a
superfluous word, yet one is left with the feeling of something
said. And how rare a quality is this today.
The powerful dactyls, the initial demonstrative adjectives, sweep
us at once into a new world, resonant of, no - precisely parallel in
its structure, meter, and tone to our great American epic
"Evangeline": "This is the Forest Primeval" - "This little pig went
to market." From the internal evidence alone is it not practically
certain Longfellow had the Little Pig Poem in mind when he set pen
It is now time to examine the poem carefully. The first question
to strike the critic is of course: "How many pigs are there?" The
naive reader, perhaps checking his toes for confirmation, will
answer, "five." But is this really the case? Is it not, in fact,
rather less than likely?
We know at once that there are, minimally, two pigs, since one
had roast beef (line 3) while another (line 4) did not and,
concomitantly, that one went to the market while another stayed
home. Both the juxtaposition of the two lines, emphasizing contrast
(as well as the laws of logic) persuade us of the existence of at
least two, separate, pigs.
Moreover, it can be said with almost equal certainty that the pig
having roast beef must be identified with either Pig One or Pig Two
(otherwise we would have no thematic linkage between couplets) -
although (and here is the great genius of the work) it is virtually
impossible to say which!
It is equally likely, for example, that the beef-eating pig got
it at the market or raided his own refrigerator. In either case, the
austere plaintiveness of line 4 assumes the non-beef-eating pig was
somehow snookered. …