Some Additional Readings — ON BEING ANIMALS

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2015

I thought it might be good to add some supplementary readings for this meeting.

So I pulled some books of poetry off the shelf and looked through them for anything speaking to the relationship between humans and other animals.

Enjoy!

(If any other writings or poems or images come to mind, please send them in. I’ll add them on to the end of this post as they arrive.)

*

Before we get to the poems, here’s a thoughtful chapter Setenay sent in from John Berger’s celebrated book, About Looking (1977). The chapter in question is entitled, “Why Look at Animals?”.

Click here —  John_Berger_Why_Look_at_Animals — for the link.

*

ECHO by Lawrence Durrell

Nothing is lost, sweet self,

Nothing is ever lost

The unspoken word

Is not exhausted but can be heard.

Music that stains

The silence remains

O echo is everywhere, the unbeckonable bird!

*

WHALES WEEP NOT! by D.H. Lawrence

They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains

the hottest blood of all, and the wildest, the most urgent.

All the whales in the wider deeps, hot are they, as they urge on and on, and dive beneath the icebergs

The right whales, the sperm-whales, the hammer-heads, the killers

there they blow, there they blow, hot wild white breath out of the sea!

And they rock, and they rock, through the sensual ageless ages

on the depths of the seven seas,

and through the salt they reel with drunk delight

and in the tropics tremble they with love

and roll with massive, strong desire, like gods.

Then the great bull lies up against his bride

in the blue deep bed of the sea,

as mountain pressing on mountain, in the zest of life:

and out of the inward roaring of the inner red ocean of whale-blood

the long tip reaches strong, intense, like the maelstrom-tip, and comes to rest

in the clasp and the soft, wild clutch of the she-whale’s fathomless body.

And over the bridge of whale’s strong phallus, linking the wonder of whales,

the burning archangels under the sea keep passing, back and forth, keep passing, archangels of bliss

from him to her, from her to him, great Cherubim

that wait on whales in mid-ocean, suspended in the waves of the sea

great heaven of whales in the waters, old hierarchies.

And enormous mother whales lie dreaming suckling their whale-tender young

and dreaming with strange whale-eyes wide open in the waters of the beginning and the end.

And bull-whales gather their women and whale-calves in a ring when danger threatens, on the surface of the great ceaseless flood

and range themselves like great fierce Seraphim facing the threat encircling their huddled monsters of love.

And all this happens in the sea, in the salt,

where God is also love, but without words:

and Aphrodite is the wife of whales

most happy, happy she!

and Venus among the fishes skips and is a she-dolphin

she is gay, delighted porpoise sporting with love and the sea

she is the female tunny-fish, round and happy among the males

and dense with happy blood, dark rainbow bliss in the sea.

*

FROGES EAT BUTTERFLIES. SNAKES EAT FROGS. HOGS EAT SNAKES. MEN EAT HOGS by Wallace Stevens

It is true that the rivers went nosing like swine,

Tugging at banks, until they seemed

Bland belly-sounds in somnolent troughs,

That the air was heavy with the breath of these swine,

The breath of turgid summer, and

Heavy with thunder’s rattapallax,

That the man who erected this cabin, planted

This field, and tended it awhile,

Knew not the quirks of imagery,

That the hours of his indolent, arid days,

Grotesque with this nosing in banks,

This somnolence and rattapallax,

Seemed to suckle themselves in his arid being,

As the swine-like rivers suckled themselves

While they went seaward to the sea-mouths.

*

THE TYGER by William Blake

Tyger Tyger burning bright,

In the forests of the night;

What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deep or skies,

Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

On what wings dare he aspire?

What the hand, dare seize 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?

*

Three Poems by Emily Dickinson

42.

With thee in the Desert —

With thee in the thirst —

With thee in the Tamarind wood —

Leopard breathes — at last!

328.

A Bird came down the Walk—
He did not know I saw—
He bit an Angleworm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,

And then he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass—
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass—

He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all around—
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought—
He stirred his Velvet Head

Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home—

Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam—
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon
Leap, plashless as they swim.

467.

The most triumphant Bird I ever knew or met

Embarked upon a twig today

And till Dominion set

I famish to behold so eminent a sight

And sang for nothing scrutible

But intimate Delight.

Retired, and resumed his transitive Estate —

To what delicious Accident

Does finest Glory fit!

*

DOGS, SHEEP, COWS, GOATS by Gary Snyder

dogs, sheep, cows, goats

and sometimes deer, hear loud noises

crackling in bushes, and they flick

fly or creep, as rabbits do

does too, into warm nests. no talk

but chatters there, small throat sounds

ear-pricks, up or back. hooves

tinkle on creekbeds. who fears a talk-

less landscape, crowded with creatures

leaves. falls. undergrowth

crawls all night, and summer smells

deep in the bushes. crouch!

at the thorny stalks.

*

Five more poems sent in by Setenay!

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HYMN TO LIFE by Nazim Hikmet

The hair falling on your forehead
suddenly lifted.
Suddenly something stirred on the ground.
The trees are whispering
in the dark.
Your bare arms will be cold.

Far off
where we can’t see,
the moon must be rising.
It hasn’t reached us yet,
slipping through the leaves
to light up your shoulder.
But I know
a wind comes up with the moon.
The trees are whispering.
Your bare arms will be cold.

From above,
from the branches lost in the dark,
something dropped at your feet.
You moved closer to me.
Under my hand your bare flesh is like the fuzzy skin of a fruit.
Neither a song of the heart nor “common sense”–
before the trees, birds, and insects,
my hand on my wife’s flesh
is thinking.
Tonight my hand
can’t read or write.
Neither loving nor unloving…
It’s the tongue of a leopard at a spring,
a grape leaf,
a wolf’s paw.
To move, breathe, eat, drink.
My hand is like a seed
splitting open underground.
Neither a song of the heart nor “common sense,”
neither loving nor unloving.
My hand thinking on my wife’s flesh
is the hand of the first man.
Like a root that finds water underground,
it says to me:
“To eat, drink, cold, hot, struggle, smell, color–
not to live in order to die
but to die to live…”

And now
as red female hair blows across my face,
as something stirs on the ground,
as the trees whisper in the dark,
and as the moon rises far off
where we can’t see,
my hand on my wife’s flesh
before the trees, birds, and insects,
I want the right of life,
of the leopard at the spring, of the seed splitting open–

I want the right of the first man.
*

LUKE by Mary Oliver

I had a dog
who loved flowers.
Briskly she went
through the fields,

yet paused
for the honeysuckle
or the rose,
her dark head

and her wet nose
touching
the face
of every one

with its petals
of silk,
with its fragrance
rising

into the air
where the bees,
their bodies
heavy with pollen,

hovered—
and easily
she adored
every blossom,

not in the serious,
careful way
that we choose
this blossom or that blossom—

the way we praise or don’t praise—
the way we love
or don’t love—
but the way

we long to be—
that happy
in the heaven of earth—
that wild, that loving.

*

WILD GEESE by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

*

DEATH OF A NATURALIST by Seamus Heaney

All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragonflies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst, into nimble
Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how
The daddy frog was called a bullfrog
And how he croaked and how the mammy frog
Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was
Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too
For they were yellow in the sun and brown
In rain.


Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.
 
*

PAUL GOODMAN ON 9 KINDS OF SILENCE by Paul Goodman

Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each. There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy; the sober silence that goes with a solemn animal face; the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul, whence emerge new thoughts; the alive silence of alert perception, ready to say, “This… this…”; the musical silence that accompanies absorbed activity; the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear; the noisy silence of resentment and self-recrimination, loud and subvocal speech but sullen to say it; baffled silence; the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos.

*
BERTRAND RUSSEL’S NOBEL SPEECH (1950)
All human activity is prompted by desire. There is a wholly fallacious theory advanced by some earnest moralists to the effect that it is possible to resist desire in the interests of duty and moral principle. I say this is fallacious, not because no man ever acts from a sense of duty, but because duty has no hold on him unless he desires to be dutiful. If you wish to know what men will do, you must know not only, or principally, their material circumstances, but rather the whole system of their desires with their relative strengths.
Man differs from other animals in one very important respect, and that is that he has some desires which are, so to speak, infinite, which can never be fully gratified, and which would keep him restless even in Paradise. The boa constrictor, when he has had an adequate meal, goes to sleep, and does not wake until he needs another meal. Human beings, for the most part, are not like this.
They have infinite desires — acquisitivenessrivalryvanity, and love of power
*
A few more from Tom…
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Snake by D.H. Lawrence
A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before
me.

He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of
the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
i o And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,
Silently.

Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second comer, waiting.

He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.
The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.

And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.

But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?

Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him? Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him? Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.

And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!

And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid, But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.

He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.

And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.

I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.

I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste.
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.

And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.

And I thought of the albatross
And I wished he would come back, my snake.

For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.

And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life.
And I have something to expiate:
A pettiness.

Taormina, 1923

*

Animals by Robinson Jeffers

At dawn a knot of sea-lions lies off the shore
In the slow swell between the rock and the cliff,
Sharp flippers lifted, or great-eyed heads, as they roll in the sea,
Bigger than draft-horses, and barking like dogs
Their all-night song. It makes me wonder a little
That life near kind to human, intelligent, hot-blooded, idle and singing,
can float at ease
In the ice-cold winter water. Then, yellow dawn
Colors the south, I think about the rapid and furious lives in the sun:
They have little to do with ours; they have nothing to do with oxygen
and salted water; the would look monstrous
If we could see them: the beautiful passionate bodies of living flame,
batlike flapping and screaming,
Tortured with burning lust and acute awareness, that ride
the storm-tides
Of the great fire-globe. They are animals, as we are. There are many
other chemistries of animal life
Beside the slow oxidation of carbohydrates and amino acids.

*

Come Into Animal Presence by Denise Levertov

Come into animal presence.
No man is so guileless as
the serpent. The lonely white
rabbit on the roof is a star
twitching its ears at the rain.
The llama intricately
folding its hind legs to be seated
not disdains but mildly
disregards human approval.
What joy when the insouciant
armadillo glances at us and doesn’t
quicken his trotting
across the track into the palm brush.
What is this joy? That no animal
falters, but knows what it must do?
That the snake has no blemish,
that the rabbit inspects his strange surroundings
in white star-silence? The llama
rests in dignity, the armadillo
has some intention to pursue in the palm-forest.
Those who were sacred have remained so,
holiness does not dissolve, it is a presence
of bronze, only the sight that saw it
faltered and turned from it.
An old joy returns in holy presence.

*

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