Poems for Pleasure 8
Animals loom large in human beings’ lives. When we think of the word “animal” we automatically assume the adjective “dumb”, or at least we never are fully conscious that we ourselves are animals. I think one of the ancient Greek philosophers described man (in the generic sense of that word obviously) as a “social animal” and/or “a thinking animal.” We have swallowed whole our own prejudices and our own propaganda. We assume we are so much better than animals. It annoys me a lot when I hear murderers or those guilty of aggravated or violent crime being described as “behaving like animals.” I suppose there are some animals that kill for the pleasure of it, but I think most kill out of in-bred and evolutionary necessity.
Anyway, it is one of my sincerely held convictions that children brought up with pets around the house are exposed to an “animal culture” if I may be so bold to call it such. A little puppy or dog will love its owner “to pieces” and will not ask for anything in return. A child will learn what unconditional love is. Also a child will learn to care for creatures that may not be able to care for themselves.
Carl Gustave Jung, whom I have mentioned often in these pages used ask his clients or rather patients to think of the animal that most represented them at that particular juncture in their lives. I also remember doing some group work/therapy about 10 years ago where we all (adults) were asked to become the animal we fancied ourselves to be. I remember playing the role of a small puppy which was at that stage looming large in my dreams. Others in the group were cats, butterflies, bees, dogs, horses etc. There we were all going around interacting with each other making all these strange animal noises – some people were even on all fours. Needless to say the next item on the agenda was a rather interesting, insightful and profound discussion as to what we thought was happening to us during this unusual session.
Anyway, from my own years of personal development work, counselling and therapy, this type of work shows us a lot about who we are at the instinctual and feelings level. For me at the time I was dreaming of myself as adult starving this lovely little puppy. The puppy I educed was the potent symbol representing my own feelings. I had been starving the whole emotional side of my being.
All this, you say, by way of an introduction to a poem. Yes indeed, and why not. After all, the poem that follows is also one I taught to young pupils during my years as a trainee teacher. It is by the Australian poet, John Blight, (1913-1995) and is called “Death of a Whale.”
Death of a Whale
When the mouse died, there was a sort of pity;
The tiny, delicate creature made for grief.
Yesterday, instead, the dead whale on the reef
Drew an excited multitude to the jetty.
How must a whale die to wring a tear?
Lugubrious death of a whale; the big
Feast for the gulls and sharks; the tug
Of the tide simulating life still there,
Until the air, polluted, swings this way
Like a door ajar from a slaughterhouse.
Pooh! pooh! spare us, give us the death of a mouse
By its tiny hole; not this in our lovely bay.--
Sorry, we are, too, when a child dies:
But at the immolation of a race, who cries?
I won’t comment further on this poem because I think the implications of it for our present society can be drawn readily, especially as regards the wars that have blighted (if you forgive me the dreadful pun on the poet’s name) our so called culture(s).
A fitting commentary on this poem can be found at Commentary