Animal poetry

Thank you to Vicky for this one, which was totally new to me.

I think I could turn and live with the animals, they are so placid and self contained;
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition;
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins;
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God;
Not one is dissatisfied-not one is demented with the mania of owning things;
Not one kneels to another, nor his kind that lived thousands of years ago;
Not one is responsible or industrious over the whole earth.
― Walt Whitman

Below a poem by Ted Hughes who used a lot of animal symbolism in his poetry.

The Jaguar


The apes yawn and adore their fleas in the sun.
The parrots shriek as if they were on fire, or strut
Like cheap tarts to attract the stroller with the nut/
Fatigued with indolence, tiger and lion

Lie still as the sun. The boa-constriktor’s coil
Is a fossil. Cage after cage seems empty, or
Stinks of sleepers from the breathing straw.
It might be painted on a nursery wall.

But who runs llike the rest past these arrives
At a cage where the crowd stands, stares, memerized,
As a child at a dream, at a dream, at a jaguar hurrying enraged
Through prison darkness after the drills of his eyes

On a short fierce fuse. Not in boredom –
The eye satisfied to be blind in fire,
By the bang of blood in the brain deaf the ear –
He spins from the bars, but there’s no cage to him

More than to the visionary his cell:
His stride is wildernesses of freedom:
The world rolls under the long thrust of his heel.
Over the cage floor the horizons come.

Yorkshire-born Hughes (1930-1998) was Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death. Apparently he was second choice to Philip Larkin who had declined the position.

17 comments on “Animal poetry

  1. Glad to be able to introduce you to one of my favourite poems.
    It one that often goes around in my mind, when despairing at the human race.


    • Always happy to read something new and different. And of course it reminded me of his war poetry. I’d thought Whitman was more modern (probably because of the Vaughn Williams music on American war poetry page) so was surprised to see that he was so much of an old timer. A good poet.


  2. By Category – yuppers – will come back and read – internet connection these days is wonky: on again off again. Tediously slow sometimes due to frequent drop outs, and when it works is lightening fast, so excuse my lack of active responsiveness.


          • So am looking at Whitman’s poem…(finally I have stable internet!!!! am hard wired – the airport in my old mac book was never great once the android phones came on the market) – anyway, I beg to differ with Whitman on this point about the animals: “…not one is demented with the mania of owning things;
            Not one kneels to another, nor his kind that lived thousands of years ago;” – where I now live – next to Beacon Hill Park in Victoria – I get to watch the animals and talk with the animals and walk with the animals…ducks, geese, peacocks, herons, turtles…to name the most obvious. The geese came back and took over the duck’s preferred pond, forcing the ducks into another pond, where they appear to be slightly over-crowded. So the ducks – in a way – kneel to the geese. Afterall, they are bigger. The peacocks and peahens parade throughout the park and come and visit the lawn and parking lot at the building where I live. They nest and lay their eggs in the 4 foot ivy “moat” that surrounds the building, and have done for several years. (Territorial!) And just 2 weeks ago, one of them was here squawking from the roof top of the parking garage, while the peachicks paraded through the parking lot. The peacock was saying: “Come look – look look look – these are my babies – all grown up now, they can walk all the way over here where they were born. look kids this is where you were born. Thank you everyone, thank you so much for letting my peahen nest here once again.”
            Then I was talking to the people who work in the petting zoo – they come and get the chicks and take them back to the farm till they are big enough to roam about with Mom and Pop – and she told me that hen had delivered 5 eggs, all of which hatched. Only 2 have survived the summer. One was stepped on by Mom and killed when it was just a wee thing, the other two were eaten by the racoons.
            This is long enough to be a blog post. How come I don’t write stuff like this on my blog? Huh?


  3. Thanks for this – Walt Whitman’s poem is stanza number 30 something from Song Of Myself – a work that established the ego I in modern poetry some say. Poetry was never the same again.
    Ted Hughes from here Yorkshire UK was of course married to the tragic Sylvia Plath – he wrote many poems about animals – some great,others so so in my humble opinion – try Thought Fox, View of a Pig,Pike, Thrushes, and his Crow series is memorable.
    All poets romanticise the flora and fauna – how could they not? Neruda is another poet with great animal poetry to his name but Rainer Maria Rilke wrote some stunning stuff, well worth dipping into.


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