poem index

Animal Poems

A List of Animal Poems for the Young and Old
Animal Poems
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Baby Tortoise
D. H. Lawrence, 1885 - 1930
You know what it is to be born alone,
Baby tortoise!

The first day to heave your feet little by little from
   the shell,
Not yet awake,
And remain lapsed on earth, 
Not quite alive.

A tiny, fragile, half-animate bean.

To open your tiny beak-mouth, that looks as if it would
   never open
Like some iron door;
To lift the upper hawk-beak from the lower base
And reach your skinny neck
And take your first bite at some dim bit of herbage,
Alone, small insect,
Tiny bright-eye,
Slow one.

To take your first solitary bite
And move on your slow, solitary hunt.
Your bright, dark little eye, 
Your eye of a dark disturbed night,
Under its slow lid, tiny baby tortoise,
So indomitable.

No one ever heard you complain.

You draw your head forward, slowly, from your little
   wimple
And set forward, slow-dragging, on your four-pinned toes,
Rowing slowly forward.
Wither away, small bird?
Rather like a baby working its limbs, 
Except that you make slow, ageless progress
And a baby makes none.

The touch of sun excites you,
And the long ages, and the lingering chill
Make you pause to yawn,
Opening your impervious mouth,
Suddenly beak-shaped, and very wide, like some suddenly
   gaping pincers;
Soft red tongue, and hard thin gums,
Then close the wedge of your little mountain front,
Your face, baby tortoise.

Do you wonder at the world, as slowly you turn your head
   in its wimple
And look with laconic, black eyes?
Or is sleep coming over you again,
The non-life?

You are so hard to wake.

Are you able to wonder? 
Or is it just your indomitable will and pride of the
   first life
Looking round
And slowly pitching itself against the inertia
Which had seemed invincible?

The vast inanimate,
And the fine brilliance of your so tiny eye,
Challenger.

Nay, tiny shell-bird.
What a huge vast inanimate it is, that you must row
   against,
What an incalculable inertia.

Challenger,
Little Ulysses, fore-runner,
No bigger than my thumb-nail,
Buon viaggio.

All animate creation on your shoulder,
Set forth, little Titan, under your battle-shield.
The ponderous, preponderate,
Inanimate universe;
And you are slowly moving, pioneer, you alone.

How vivid your travelling seems now, in the troubled
   sunshine,
Stoic, Ulyssean atom;
Suddenly hasty, reckless, on high toes.

Voiceless little bird,
Resting your head half out of your wimple
In the slow dignity of your eternal pause.
Alone, with no sense of being alone, 
And hence six times more solitary;
Fulfilled of the slow passion of pitching through
   immemorial ages
Your little round house in the midst of chaos.

Over the garden earth,
Small bird,
Over the edge of all things.

Traveller,
With your tail tucked a little on one side
Like a gentleman in a long-skirted coat.

All life carried on your shoulder,
Invincible fore-runner.
Animal Poems
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The Armadillo
Elizabeth Bishop, 1911 - 1979

For Robert Lowell

This is the time of year
when almost every night
the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.
Climbing the mountain height,

rising toward a saint
still honored in these parts,
the paper chambers flush and fill with light
that comes and goes, like hearts.

Once up against the sky it's hard 
to tell them from the stars—
planets, that is—the tinted ones:
Venus going down, or Mars,

or the pale green one.  With a wind,
they flare and falter, wobble and toss;
but if it's still they steer between
the kite sticks of the Southern Cross,

receding, dwindling, solemnly
and steadily forsaking us,
or, in the downdraft from a peak,
suddenly turning dangerous.

Last night another big one fell.
It splattered like an egg of fire
against the cliff behind the house.
The flame ran down.  We saw the pair

of owls who nest there flying up 
and up, their whirling black-and-white
stained bright pink underneath, until
they shrieked up out of sight.

The ancient owls' nest must have burned.
Hastily, all alone,
a glistening armadillo left the scene,
rose-flecked, head down, tail down,

and then a baby rabbit jumped out,
short-eared, to our surprise.
So soft!—a handful of intangible ash
with fixed, ignited eyes.

Too pretty, dreamlike mimicry!
O falling fire and piercing cry
and panic, and a weak mailed fist
clenched ignorant against the sky!
Animal Poems
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The Crocodile
Lewis Carroll, 1832 - 1898
How doth the little crocodile 
     Improve his shining tail, 
And pour the waters of the Nile 
     On every golden scale! 
  
How cheerfully he seems to grin, 
     How neatly spreads his claws, 
And welcomes little fishes in, 
     With gently smiling jaws!
Animal Poems
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The Bear
Galway Kinnell, 1927
1

In late winter
I sometimes glimpse bits of steam
coming up from
some fault in the old snow
and bend close and see it is lung-colored
and put down my nose
and know
the chilly, enduring odor of bear.


2

I take a wolf's rib and whittle
it sharp at both ends
and coil it up
and freeze it in blubber and place it out
on the fairway of the bears.

And when it has vanished
I move out on the bear tracks,
roaming in circles
until I come to the first, tentative, dark
splash on the earth.

And I set out
running, following the splashes
of blood wandering over the world.
At the cut, gashed resting places
I stop and rest,
at the crawl-marks
where he lay out on his belly
to overpass some stretch of bauchy ice
I lie out
dragging myself forward with bear-knives in my fists.


3

On the third day I begin to starve,
at nightfall I bend down as I knew I would
at a turd sopped in blood,
and hesitate, and pick it up,
and thrust it in my mouth, and gnash it down,
and rise
and go on running.


4

On the seventh day,
living by now on bear blood alone,
I can see his upturned carcass far out ahead, a scraggled,
steamy hulk,
the heavy fur riffling in the wind.

I come up to him
and stare at the narrow-spaced, petty eyes,
the dismayed
face laid back on the shoulder, the nostrils
flared, catching
perhaps the first taint of me as he
died.

I hack
a ravine in his thigh, and eat and drink,
and tear him down his whole length
and open him and climb in
and close him up after me, against the wind,
and sleep.


5

And dream
of lumbering flatfooted
over the tundra,
stabbed twice from within,
splattering a trail behind me,
splattering it out no matter which way I lurch,
no matter which parabola of bear-transcendence,
which dance of solitude I attempt,
which gravity-clutched leap,
which trudge, which groan.


6

Until one day I totter and fall—
fall on this
stomach that has tried so hard to keep up,
to digest the blood as it leaked in,
to break up
and digest the bone itself: and now the breeze
blows over me, blows off
the hideous belches of ill-digested bear blood
and rotted stomach
and the ordinary, wretched odor of bear,

blows across
my sore, lolled tongue a song
or screech, until I think I must rise up
and dance. And I lie still.


7

I awaken I think. Marshlights
reappear, geese
come trailing again up the flyway.
In her ravine under old snow the dam-bear
lies, licking
lumps of smeared fur
and drizzly eyes into shapes
with her tongue. And one
hairy-soled trudge stuck out before me,
the next groaned out,
the next,
the next,
the rest of my days I spend
wandering: wondering
what, anyway,
was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that poetry, by which I lived?
Animal Poems
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The Dusk of Horses
James Dickey, 1923 - 1997
Right under their noses, the green
Of the field is paling away
Because of something fallen from the sky. 

They see this, and put down
Their long heads deeper in grass
That only just escapes reflecting them

As the dream of a millpond would.
The color green flees over the grass
Like an insect, following the red sun over

The next hill. The grass is white.
There is no cloud so dark and white at once;
There is no pool at dawn that deepens

Their faces and thirsts as this does.
Now they are feeding on solid
Cloud, and, one by one,

With nails as silent as stars among the wood
Hewed down years ago and now rotten,
The stalls are put up around them.

Now if they lean, they come
On wood on any side. Not touching it, they sleep.
No beast ever lived who understood

What happened among the sun's fields,
Or cared why the color of grass 
Fled over the hill while he stumbled,

Led by the halter to sleep
On his four taxed, worthy legs.
Each thinks he awakens where 

The sun is black on the rooftop,
That the green is dancing in the next pasture,
And that the way to sleep

In a cloud, or in a risen lake,
Is to walk as though he were still 
in the drained field standing, head down,

To pretend to sleep when led,
And thus to go under the ancient white
Of the meadow, as green goes

And whiteness comes up through his face
Holding stars and rotten rafters,
Quiet, fragrant, and relieved.
Animal Poems
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Leda and the Swan
W. B. Yeats, 1865 - 1939
A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
                    Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?
Animal Poems
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The Eagle
Lord Alfred Tennyson, 1809 - 1892

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands. 

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls, 
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
Animal Poems
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The Tyger
William Blake, 1757 - 1827
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
Animal Poems
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The Lamb
William Blake, 1757 - 1827
Little lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee,
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice? 
    Little lamb, who made thee? 
    Dost thou know who made thee?

    Little lamb, I'll tell thee;
    Little lamb, I'll tell thee:
He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild,
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are called by His name. 
    Little lamb, God bless thee! 
    Little lamb, God bless thee!
Animal Poems
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The Fly
William Blake, 1757 - 1827
Little fly,
Thy summer’s play
My thoughtless hand
Has brushed away.

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

For I dance
And drink and sing,
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

If thought is life
And strength and breath,
And the want
Of thought is death,

Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live,
Or if I die.
Animal Poems
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Woodchucks
Maxine Kumin, 1925 - 2014
Gassing the woodchucks didn't turn out right.
The knockout bomb from the Feed and Grain Exchange
was featured as merciful, quick at the bone
and the case we had against them was airtight,
both exits shoehorned shut with puddingstone,
but they had a sub-sub-basement out of range.

Next morning they turned up again, no worse
for the cyanide than we for our cigarettes
and state-store Scotch, all of us up to scratch.
They brought down the marigolds as a matter of course
and then took over the vegetable patch
nipping the broccoli shoots, beheading the carrots.

The food from our mouths, I said, righteously thrilling
to the feel of the .22, the bullets' neat noses.
I, a lapsed pacifist fallen from grace
puffed with Darwinian pieties for killing,
now drew a bead on the little woodchuck's face.
He died down in the everbearing roses.

Ten minutes later I dropped the mother.  She
flipflopped in the air and fell, her needle teeth
still hooked in a leaf of early Swiss chard.
Another baby next.  O one-two-three
the murderer inside me rose up hard,
the hawkeye killer came on stage forthwith.

There's one chuck left. Old wily fellow, he keeps
me cocked and ready day after day after day.
All night I hunt his humped-up form.  I dream
I sight along the barrel in my sleep.
If only they'd all consented to die unseen
gassed underground the quiet Nazi way.
Animal Poems
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I Am! Said the Lamb [excerpt]
Theodore Roethke, 1908 - 1963

The Donkey

I had a Donkey, that was all right,
But he always wanted to fly my Kite;
Every time I let him, the String would bust.
Your Donkey is better behaved, I trust.

The Ceiling

Suppose the Ceiling went Outside
And then caught Cold and Up and Died?
The only Thing we'd have for Proof
That he was Gone, would be the Roof;
I think it would be Most Revealing
To find out how the Ceiling's Feeling.

The Chair

A funny thing about a Chair:
You hardly ever think it's there.
To know a Chair is really it,
You sometimes have to go and sit.

The Hippo

A Head or Tail—which does he lack?
I think his Forward's coming back!
He lives on Carrots, Leeks and Hay;
He starts to yawn—it takes All Day—

Some time I think I'll live that way.

The Lizard

The Time to Tickle a Lizard,
Is Before, or Right After, a Blizzard.
Now the place to begin
Is just under his Chin,—
And here's more Advice:
Don't Poke more than Twice
At an Intimate Place like his Gizzard.
Animal Poems
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Animals and Art
Ron Padgett, 1942

 

Click the icon above to listen to this audio poem.

Animal Poems
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The Moose
Elizabeth Bishop, 1911 - 1979

For Grace Bulmer Bowers

From narrow provinces
of fish and bread and tea,
home of the long tides
where the bay leaves the sea
twice a day and takes
the herrings long rides,

where if the river
enters or retreats 
in a wall of brown foam
depends on if it meets
the bay coming in,
the bay not at home;

where, silted red,
sometimes the sun sets
facing a red sea,
and others, veins the flats'
lavender, rich mud
in burning rivulets;

on red, gravelly roads,
down rows of sugar maples,
past clapboard farmhouses
and neat, clapboard churches,
bleached, ridged as clamshells,
past twin silver birches,

through late afternoon
a bus journeys west,
the windshield flashing pink,
pink glancing off of metal,
brushing the dented flank
of blue, beat-up enamel;

down hollows, up rises,
and waits, patient, while
a lone traveller gives
kisses and embraces
to seven relatives
and a collie supervises.

Goodbye to the elms,
to the farm, to the dog.
The bus starts.  The light
grows richer; the fog,
shifting, salty, thin,
comes closing in.

Its cold, round crystals
form and slide and settle
in the white hens' feathers,
in gray glazed cabbages,
on the cabbage roses
and lupins like apostles;

the sweet peas cling
to their wet white string
on the whitewashed fences;
bumblebees creep
inside the foxgloves,
and evening commences.

One stop at Bass River.
Then the Economies 
Lower, Middle, Upper;
Five Islands, Five Houses,
where a woman shakes a tablecloth
out after supper.

A pale flickering.  Gone.
The Tantramar marshes 
and the smell of salt hay.
An iron bridge trembles 
and a loose plank rattles
but doesn't give way.

On the left, a red light
swims through the dark:
a ship's port lantern.
Two rubber boots show,
illuminated, solemn.
A dog gives one bark.

A woman climbs in 
with two market bags,
brisk, freckled, elderly.
"A grand night.  Yes, sir,
all the way to Boston."
She regards us amicably.

Moonlight as we enter 
the New Brunswick woods,
hairy, scratchy, splintery;
moonlight and mist
caught in them like lamb's wool
on bushes in a pasture.

The passengers lie back.
Snores.  Some long sighs.
A dreamy divagation
begins in the night,
a gentle, auditory,
slow hallucination. . . .

In the creakings and noises,
an old conversation
--not concerning us,
but recognizable, somewhere,
back in the bus:
Grandparents' voices

uninterruptedly
talking, in Eternity:
names being mentioned,
things cleared up finally;
what he said, what she said,
who got pensioned;

deaths, deaths and sicknesses;
the year he remarried;
the year (something) happened.
She died in childbirth.
That was the son lost
when the schooner foundered.

He took to drink. Yes.
She went to the bad.
When Amos began to pray
even in the store and
finally the family had
to put him away.

"Yes . . ." that peculiar
affirmative.  "Yes . . ."
A sharp, indrawn breath,
half groan, half acceptance,
that means "Life's like that.
We know it (also death)."

Talking the way they talked 
in the old featherbed,
peacefully, on and on,
dim lamplight in the hall,
down in the kitchen, the dog
tucked in her shawl.

Now, it's all right now
even to fall asleep
just as on all those nights.
--Suddenly the bus driver
stops with a jolt,
turns off his lights.

A moose has come out of 
the impenetrable wood
and stands there, looms, rather,
in the middle of the road.
It approaches; it sniffs at
the bus's hot hood.

Towering, antlerless,
high as a church,
homely as a house
(or, safe as houses).
A man's voice assures us
"Perfectly harmless. . . ."

Some of the passengers
exclaim in whispers,
childishly, softly,
"Sure are big creatures."
"It's awful plain."
"Look! It's a she!"

Taking her time,
she looks the bus over,
grand, otherworldly.
Why, why do we feel
(we all feel) this sweet
sensation of joy?

"Curious creatures,"
says our quiet driver,
rolling his r's.
"Look at that, would you."
Then he shifts gears.
For a moment longer,

by craning backward,
the moose can be seen
on the moonlit macadam;
then there's a dim
smell of moose, an acrid
smell of gasoline.
Animal Poems
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The Caterpillar
Robert Graves, 1895 - 1985
Under this loop of honeysuckle,
A creeping, coloured caterpillar,
I gnaw the fresh green hawthorn spray,
I nibble it leaf by leaf away.

Down beneath grow dandelions,
Daisies, old-man's-looking-glasses;
Rooks flap croaking across the lane.
I eat and swallow and eat again.

Here come raindrops helter-skelter;
I munch and nibble unregarding:
Hawthorn leaves are juicy and firm.
I'll mind my business: I'm a good worm.

When I'm old, tired, melancholy,
I'll build a leaf-green mausoleum
Close by, here on this lovely spray,
And die and dream the ages away.

Some say worms win resurrection,
With white wings beating flitter-flutter,
But wings or a sound sleep, why should I care?
Either way I'll miss my share.

Under this loop of honeysuckle,
A hungry, hairy caterpillar,
I crawl on my high and swinging seat,
And eat, eat, eat—as one ought to eat.
Animal Poems
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The Chambered Nautilus
Oliver Wendell Holmes
This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
     Sails the unshadowed main,
     The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
     And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.

Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
     Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
     And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
     Before thee lies revealed,
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!

Year after year beheld the silent toil
     That spread his lustrous coil;
     Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year's dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
     Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.

Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
     Child of the wandering sea,
     Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathéd horn!
     While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
     As the swift seasons roll!
     Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
     Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea!
Animal Poems
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The Woman at the Washington Zoo
Randall Jarrell, 1914 - 1965
The saris go by me from the embassies.

Cloth from the moon.  Cloth from another planet.  
They look back at the leopard like the leopard.

And I. . . .
          this print of mine, that has kept its color
Alive through so many cleanings; this dull null
Navy I wear to work, and wear from work, and so
To my bed, so to my grave, with no
Complaints, no comment: neither from my chief,
The Deputy Chief Assistant, nor his chief--
Only I complain. . . . this serviceable
Body that no sunlight dyes, no hand suffuses
But, dome-shadowed, withering among columns,
Wavy beneath fountains--small, far-off, shining
In the eyes of animals, these beings trapped
As I am trapped but not, themselves, the trap,
Aging, but without knowledge of their age,
Kept safe here, knowing not of death, for death--
Oh, bars of my own body, open, open!

The world goes by my cage and never sees me.
And there come not to me, as come to these,
The wild beasts, sparrows pecking the llamas' grain,
Pigeons settling on the bears' bread, buzzards
Tearing the meat the flies have clouded. . . .
                                               Vulture,
When you come for the white rat that the foxes left, 
Take off the red helmet of your head, the black
Wings that have shadowed me, and step to me as man:
The wild brother at whose feet the white wolves fawn,
To whose hand of power the great lioness
Stalks, purring. . . .
                       You know what I was,
You see what I am: change me, change me!
Animal Poems
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The Walrus and the Carpenter
Lewis Carroll, 1832 - 1898
The sun was shining on the sea, 
   Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make 
   The billows smooth and bright-- 
And this was odd, because it was
   The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily, 
   Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there 
   After the day was done-- 
"It's very rude of him," she said,
   "To come and spoil the fun!"

The sea was wet as wet could be, 
   The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud because 
   No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead-- 
   There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter 
   Were walking close at hand:
They wept like anything to see 
   Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away," 
   They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops 
   Swept it for half a year,
Do you suppose," the Walrus said, 
   "That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
   And shed a bitter tear.

"0 Oysters, come and walk with us!" 
   The Walrus did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk, 
   Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four, 
   To give a hand to each."

The eldest Oyster looked at him, 
   But never a word he said;
The eldest Oyster winked his eye, 
   And shook his heavy head-- 
Meaning to say he did not choose 
   To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up, 
   All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed, 
   Their shoes were clean and neat-- 
And this was odd, because, you know, 
   They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them, 
   And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last, 
   And more and more and more-- 
All hopping through the frothy waves, 
   And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
   Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
   Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood 
   And waited in a row.

"The time has come," the Walrus said, 
   "To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
   Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot-- 
   And whether pigs have wings."

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried, 
   "Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath, 
   And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter. 
   They thanked him much for that.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said, 
   "Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
   Are very good indeed--
Now, if you're ready, Oysters dear, 
   We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried, 
   Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be 
   A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said, 
   "Do you admire the view?

"It was so kind of you to come! 
   And you are very nice!"
The Carpenter said nothing but 
   "Cut us another slice.
I wish you were not quite so deaf-- 
   I've had to ask you twice!"

"It seems a shame," the Walrus said, 
   "To play them such a trick.
After we've brought them out so far, 
   And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but 
   "The butter's spread too thick!"

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
   "I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out 
   Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief 
   Before his streaming eyes.

"0 Oysters," said the Carpenter, 
   "You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?" 
   But answer came there none-- 
And this was scarcely odd, because
   They'd eaten every one.
Animal Poems
next
Ode to a Nightingale
John Keats, 1795 - 1821
1.

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains  
  My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,  
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains  
  One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:  
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
  But being too happy in thine happiness,—  
    That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,  
          In some melodious plot  
  Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,  
    Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
  
2.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been  
  Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,  
Tasting of Flora and the country green,  
  Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth!  
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
  Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,  
    With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,  
          And purple-stained mouth;  
  That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,  
    And with thee fade away into the forest dim:
  
3.

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget  
  What thou among the leaves hast never known,  
The weariness, the fever, and the fret  
  Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;  
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
  Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;  
    Where but to think is to be full of sorrow  
          And leaden-eyed despairs,  
  Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,  
    Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.
  
4.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,  
  Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,  
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,  
  Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:  
Already with thee! tender is the night,
  And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,  
    Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays;  
          But here there is no light,  
  Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown  
    Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.
  
5.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,  
  Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,  
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet  
  Wherewith the seasonable month endows  
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
  White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;  
    Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves;  
          And mid-May's eldest child,  
  The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,  
    The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.
  
6.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time  
  I have been half in love with easeful Death,  
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,  
  To take into the air my quiet breath;  
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
  To cease upon the midnight with no pain,  
    While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad  
          In such an ecstasy!  
  Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—  
    To thy high requiem become a sod.
  
7.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!  
  No hungry generations tread thee down;  
The voice I hear this passing night was heard  
  In ancient days by emperor and clown:  
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path 
  Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,  
    She stood in tears amid the alien corn;  
          The same that oft-times hath  
  Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam  
    Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.   
  
8.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell  
  To toil me back from thee to my sole self!  
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well  
  As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf.  
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
  Past the near meadows, over the still stream,  
    Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep  
          In the next valley-glades:  
  Was it a vision, or a waking dream?  
    Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?
Animal Poems
next
Evening Hawk
Robert Penn Warren, 1905 - 1989
From plane of light to plane, wings dipping through
Geometries and orchids that the sunset builds,
Out of the peak's black angularity of shadow, riding
The last tumultuous avalanche of
Light above pines and the guttural gorge,
The hawk comes.
               His wing
Scythes down another day, his motion 
Is that of the honed steel-edge, we hear
The crashless fall of stalks of Time.

The head of each stalk is heavy with the gold of our error.

Look!  Look!  he is climbing the last light
Who knows neither Time nor error, and under
Whose eye, unforgiving, the world, unforgiven, swings
Into shadow.

          Long now,
The last thrush is still, the last bat
Now cruises in his sharp hieroglyphics.  His wisdom
Is ancient, too, and immense.  The star
Is steady, like Plato, over the mountain.

If there were no wind we might, we think, hear
The earth grind on its axis, or history
Drip in darkness like a leaking pipe in the cellar.
Animal Poems
next
Hope is the thing with feathers (254)
Emily Dickinson, 1830 - 1886
Hope is the thing with feathers  
That perches in the soul,  
And sings the tune without the words,  
And never stops at all,  
   
And sweetest in the gale is heard;          
And sore must be the storm  
That could abash the little bird  
That kept so many warm.  
   
I've heard it in the chillest land,  
And on the strangest sea;         
Yet, never, in extremity,  
It asked a crumb of me.
Animal Poems
next
In the Memphis Airport
Timothy Steele, 1948
Above the concourse, from a beam,
A little warbler pours forth song.
Beneath him, hurried humans stream:
Some draw wheeled suitcases along
Or from a beeping belt or purse
Apply a cell phone to an ear;
Some pause at banks of monitors
Where times and gates for flights appear.

Although by nature flight-endowed,
He seems too gentle to reproach
These souls who soon will climb through cloud
In first class, business class, and coach.
He may feel that it's his mistake
He’s here, but someone ought to bring
A net to catch and help him make
His own connections north to spring.

He cheeps and trills on, swift and sweet,
Though no one outside hears his strains.
There, telescopic tunnels greet
The cheeks of their arriving planes;
A ground crew welcomes and assists
Luggage that skycaps, treating bags
Like careful ornithologists,
Banded with destination tags.
Animal Poems
next
World Below the Brine
Walt Whitman, 1819 - 1892
The world below the brine;   
Forests at the bottom of the sea—the branches and leaves,   
Sea-lettuce, vast lichens, strange flowers and seeds—
      the thick tangle, the openings, and the pink turf,   
Different colors, pale gray and green, purple, white, and gold—
      the play of light through the water,   
Dumb swimmers there among the rocks—coral, gluten, grass, rushes—
      and the aliment of the swimmers,
Sluggish existences grazing there, suspended, or slowly crawling 
      close to the bottom,   
The sperm-whale at the surface, blowing air and spray, or disporting
      with his flukes,   
The leaden-eyed shark, the walrus, the turtle, the hairy sea-leopard,
      and the sting-ray;   
Passions there—wars, pursuits, tribes—sight in those ocean-depths—
      breathing that thick-breathing air, as so many do;   
The change thence to the sight here, and to the subtle air breathed by beings
      like us, who walk this sphere;
The change onward from ours, to that of beings who walk other spheres.
Animal Poems
next
The Shark's Parlor
James Dickey, 1923 - 1997
Memory: I can take my head and strike it on a wall     on Cumberland Island 
Where the night tide came crawling under the stairs     came up the first 
Two or three steps     and the cottage stood on poles all night 
With the sea sprawled under it     as we dreamed of the great fin circling 
Under the bedroom floor. In daylight there was my first brassy taste of beer 
And Payton Ford and I came back from the Glynn County slaughterhouse 
With a bucket of entrails and blood. We tied one end of a hawser 
To a spindling porch-pillar and rowed straight out of the house 
Three hundred yards into the vast front yard of windless blue water 
The rope out slithering its coil     the two-gallon jug stoppered and sealed 
With wax     and a ten-foot chain leader     a drop-forged shark-hook nestling. 
We cast our blood on the waters     the land blood easily passing 
For sea blood     and we sat in it for a moment with the stain spreading 
Out from the boat     sat in a new radiance     in the pond of blood in the sea 
Waiting for fins     waiting to spill our guts also in the glowing water. 
We dumped the bucket, and baited the hook with a run-over collie pup. The jug 
Bobbed, trying to shake off the sun as a dog would shake off the sea. 
We rowed to the house     feeling the same water lift the boat a new way, 
All the time seeing where we lived rise and dip with the oars. 
We tied up and sat down in rocking chairs, one eye on the other responding 
To the blue-eye wink of the jug. Payton got us a beer and we sat 
All morning sat there with blood on our minds     the red mark out 
In the harbor slowly failing us     then     the house groaned     the rope 
Sprang out of the water     splinters flew     we leapt from our chairs 
And grabbed the rope     hauled     did nothing     the house coming subtly 
Apart     all around us     underfoot     boards beginning to sparkle like sand 
Pulling out     the tarred poles we slept propped-up on     leaning to sea 
As in land-wind     crabs scuttling from under the floor     as we took runs about 
Two more porch-pillars     and looked out and saw     something     a fish-flash 
An almighty fin in trouble    a moiling of secret forces     a false start 
Of water    a round wave growing     in the whole of Cumberland Sound the one ripple. 
Payton took off without a word     I could not hold him either 
But clung to the rope anyway     it was the whole house bending 
Its nails that held whatever it was     coming in a little and like a fool 
I took up the slack on my wrist. The rope drew gently     jerked     I lifted 
Clean off the porch and hit the water     the same water it was in 
I felt in blue blazing terror at the bottom of the stairs and scrambled 
Back up looking desperately into the human house as deeply as I could 
Stopping my gaze before it went out the wire screen of the back door 
Stopped it on the thistled rattan     the rugs I lay on and read 
On my mother's sewing basket with next winter's socks spilling from it 
The flimsy vacation furniture     a bucktoothed picture of myself. 
Payton came back with three men from a filling station     and glanced at me 
Dripping water     inexplicable     then we all grabbed hold like a tug-of-war. 
We were gaining a little     from us a cry went up     from everywhere 
People came running. Behind us the house filled with men and boys.
On the third step from the sea I took my place     looking down the rope 
Going into the ocean, humming and shaking off drops. A houseful 
Of people put their backs into it     going up the steps from me 
Into the living room     through the kitchen     down the back stairs 
Up and over a hill of sand     across a dust road     and onto a raised field 
Of dunes     we were gaining     the rope in my hands began to be wet 
With deeper water     all other haulers retreated through the house 
But Payton and I on the stairs     drawing hand over hand on our blood 
Drawing into existence by the nose     a huge body     becoming 
A hammerhead     rolling in beery shallows     and I began to let up 
But the rope strained behind me     the town had gone 
Pulling-mad in our house     far away in a field of sand they struggled 
They had turned their backs on the sea     bent double     some on their knees 
The rope over their shoulders like a bag of gold     they strove for the ideal 
Esso station across the scorched meadow     with the distant fish coming up 
The front stairs     the sagging boards     still coming in     up     taking 
Another step     toward the empty house     where the rope stood straining 
By itself through the rooms     in the middle of the air.     "Pass the word," 
Payton said, and I screamed it     "Let up, good God, let up!"     to no one there. 
The shark flopped on the porch, grating with salt-sand     driving back in 
The nails he had pulled out     coughing chunks of his formless blood. 
The screen door banged and tore off     he scrambled on his tail     slid 
Curved     did a thing from another world     and was out of his element and in 
Our vacation paradise     cutting all four legs from under the dinner table 
With one deep-water move     he unwove the rugs in a moment     throwing pints 
Of blood over everything we owned     knocked the buckteeth out of my picture 
His odd head full of crashed jelly-glass splinters and radio tubes     thrashing 
Among the pages of fan magazines     all the movie stars drenched in sea-blood 
Each time we thought he was dead     he struggled back and smashed 
One more thing     in all coming back to die     three or four more times after death. 
At last we got him out     logrolling him     greasing his sandpaper skin 
With lard to slide him     pulling on his chained lips as the tide came, 
Tumbled him down the steps as the first night wave went under the floor. 
He drifted off     head back     belly white as the moon. What could I do but buy 
That house     for the one black mark still there     against death     a forehead- 
        toucher in the room he circles beneath     and has been invited to wreck? 
Blood hard as iron on the wall     black with time     still bloodlike 
Can be touched whenever the brow is drunk enough. All changes. Memory: 
Something like three-dimensional dancing in the limbs     with age 
Feeling more in two worlds than one     in all worlds the growing encounters.
Animal Poems
next
Seal Lullaby
Rudyard Kipling, 1865 - 1936
Oh! hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us, 
   And black are the waters that sparkled so green. 
The moon, o'er the combers, looks downward to find us 
   At rest in the hollows that rustle between. 
Where billow meets billow, there soft be thy pillow; 
   Ah, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease! 
The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee, 
   Asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas. 
Animal Poems
next
The Maldive Shark
Herman Melville, 1819 - 1891
          About the Shark, phlegmatical one, 
Pale sot of the Maldive sea, 
The sleek little pilot-fish, azure and slim, 
How alert in attendance be. 
From his saw-pit of mouth, from his charnel of maw 
They have nothing of harm to dread, 
But liquidly glide on his ghastly flank 
Or before his Gorgonian head; 
Or lurk in the port of serrated teeth 
In white triple tiers of glittering gates, 
And there find a haven when peril’s abroad, 
An asylum in jaws of the Fates! 
They are friends; and friendly they guide him to prey, 
Yet never partake of the treat— 
Eyes and brains to the dotard lethargic and dull, 
Pale ravener of horrible meat.
Animal Poems
next
The Elephant is Slow to Mate
D. H. Lawrence, 1885 - 1930
The elephant, the huge old beast,
     is slow to mate;
he finds a female, they show no haste
     they wait

for the sympathy in their vast shy hearts
     slowly, slowly to rouse
as they loiter along the river-beds
     and drink and browse

and dash in panic through the brake
     of forest with the herd,
and sleep in massive silence, and wake
     together, without a word.

So slowly the great hot elephant hearts
     grow full of desire,
and the great beasts mate in secret at last,
     hiding their fire.

Oldest they are and the wisest of beasts
     so they know at last
how to wait for the loneliest of feasts
     for the full repast.

They do not snatch, they do not tear;
     their massive blood
moves as the moon-tides, near, more near
     till they touch in flood.
Animal Poems
next
The White Horse
D. H. Lawrence, 1885 - 1930
The youth walks up to the white horse, to put its halter on
and the horse looks at him in silence.
They are so silent, they are in another world.
Animal Poems
next
Mole
Wyatt Prunty, 1947
For weeks he’s tunneled his intricate need
Through the root-rich, fibrous, humoral dark,
Buckling up in zagged illegibles
The cuneiforms and cursives of a blind scribe. 
 
Sleeved by soft earth, a slow reach knuckling, 
Small tributaries open from his nudge—
Mild immigrant, bland isolationist,
Berm builder edging the runneling world.
 
But now the snow, and he’s gone quietly deep,
Nuzzling through a muzzy neighborhood
Of dead-end-street, abandoned cul-de-sac,
And boltrun from a dead-leaf, roundhouse burrow.
 
May he emerge four months from this as before,
Myopic master of the possible,
Wise one who understands prudential ground,
Revisionist of all things green;
 
So when he surfaces, lumplike, bashful,
Quizzical as the flashbulb blind who wait
For color to return, he’ll nose our green-
rich air with the imperative poise of now.
Animal Poems
next
The Fish
Elizabeth Bishop, 1911 - 1979
I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
—the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly—
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
—It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
—if you could call it a lip—
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels—until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.
Animal Poems
next
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame
Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844 - 1889
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;	
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells	
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's	
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;	
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:	        
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;	
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,	
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.	
 
Í say móre: the just man justices;	
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;	        
Acts in God's eye what in God’s eye he is—	
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,	
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his	
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.