If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.

The speaker opens the poem with this quatrain (lines 1–4), which introduces the sonnet’s central conflict between the speaker and his compatriots on the one hand, and their oppressors on the other. In these lines, the speaker introduces his basic argument that it would be ignoble for him and his kinsmen to die like penned-up animals, corralled for the slaughter. He makes this claim with the help of figurative language that likens the oppressed and their oppressors to animals. In the opening line, the speaker compares himself and his compatriots to “hogs,” but even as he makes this comparison, he disavows it. His point is hypothetical: if they were to die while being “hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,” then their death would be dishonorable. His claim, then, is that they must refuse to be “like hogs.” By contrast, the speaker describes the oppressors as “mad and hungry dogs” who are hounding him and his kinsmen. Significantly, the speaker uses metaphor rather than simile to make this comparison. That is, his oppressors aren’t described as being like dogs—they are dogs. The speaker’s point is that the oppressors have dehumanized themselves in their attempt to treat the speaker and his compatriots like animals.

O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!

This line (line 9) opens the sonnet’s third and final quatrain with an instance of apostrophe, or direct address. Here, the speaker issues a call to arms to his “kinsmen.” We don’t know exactly what characterizes this group or binds them together. Even so, what’s clear is that they are oppressed in some way and in danger of serious violence that will likely result in their death. The first two quatrains in the sonnet have established the high stakes of their situation. The speaker has also made a powerful distinction between what constitutes a dishonorable death versus an honorable one. Whereas dying penned up like a helpless animal would be dishonorable, it would be honorable to die while putting up a fight. It’s for this reason that the speaker turns to his kinsmen and encourages them to gather their courage and join the fight. Although it’s likely they will die anyway, the speaker and his compatriots will achieve a noble death as long as they meet the violence of their “common foe” with violence of their own.

Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

The speaker closes the poem with this couplet (lines 13–14), which rehashes the main argument he has made throughout the sonnet’s three quatrains. That is, the speaker insists on the importance of resisting oppressors by fighting back, since it’s only through active resistance that the oppressed can maintain their dignity. The speaker makes an implicit link between dignity and humanity when he opens these lines with the words “Like men.” Recall that the poem opens with the speaker describing how his oppressors have treated him and his compatriots “like hogs.” It’s precisely this kind of dehumanizing treatment that the speaker refuses. Instead of allowing themselves to be “hunted and penned” by a pack of “mad and hungry dogs” (lines 2 and 3), the speaker argued that he and his kinsmen must seek freedom—or die trying. Now, at the end of the poem, the speaker reminds his audience that the only way to claim full humanity is to face their enemy. By contrast, their oppressors are not “like men.” In attempting to dehumanize the speaker and his kinsmen, the oppressors have dehumanized themselves. For this reason, they began the poem as “dogs,” and at poem’s end they remain little more than a “cowardly pack.”