As all Scots know, it’s Rabbie Burns Day…
Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in they breastie!
Thou need na’ start awa sae hasty wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee, wi’ murdering rattle!
I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion an’ fellow mortal!
I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? Poor beastie, thou maun live
A daimen icker in a thrave ‘s a sma’ reuest;
I’ll get a blessin wi’ tha lave an’ never miss’t!
Thy wee-bit house, too, in ruin!
It’s sily wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane, o’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s win’s ensuing, baith snell an’ keen!
Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary winter comin fast,
An’ corie here, beneath the blast, thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! The cruel coulter past out thro’ thy cell.
That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turned out, for a’ thy trouble, but house or hald,
To there the winter’s sleety dribble, an’ cranreuch cauld!
But mouse, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, for promis’d joy!
Still thou are blest, compared wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e’e, on prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see, I guess an’ fear!
~Robert Burns~ Scotland’s National Bard
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,
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,
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
And I have something to expiate :
Do you fear the force of the wind,
The slash of the rain?
Go face them and fight them,
Be savage again.
Go hungry and cold like the wolf,
Go wade like the crane:
The palms of your hands will thicken,
The skin of your cheek will tan,
You’ll grow ragged and weary and swarthy,
But you’ll walk like a man!
~ Hamlin Garland ~
My dog has died.
I buried him in the garden
next to a rusted old machine.
Some day I’ll join him right there,
but now he’s gone with his shaggy coat,
his bad manners and his cold nose,
and I, the materialist, who never believed
in any promised heaven in the sky
for any human being,
I believe in a heaven I’ll never enter.
Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.
Ai, I’ll not speak of sadness here on earth,
of having lost a companion
who was never servile.
His friendship for me, like that of a porcupine
withholding its authority,
was the friendship of a star, aloof,
with no more intimacy than was called for,
with no exaggerations:
he never climbed all over my clothes
filling me full of his hair or his mange,
he never rubbed up against my knee
like other dogs obsessed with sex.
No, my dog used to gaze at me,
paying me the attention I need,
the attention required
to make a vain person like me understand
that, being a dog, he was wasting time,
but, with those eyes so much purer than mine,
he’d keep on gazing at me
with a look that reserved for me alone
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing.
Ai, how many times have I envied his tail
as we walked together on the shores of the sea
in the lonely winter of Isla Negra
where the wintering birds filled the sky
and my hairy dog was jumping about
full of the voltage of the sea’s movement:
my wandering dog, sniffing away
with his golden tail held high,
face to face with the ocean’s spray.
Joyful, joyful, joyful,
as only dogs know how to be happy
with only the autonomy
of their shameless spirit.
There are no good-byes for my dog who has died,
and we don’t now and never did lie to each other.
So now he’s gone and I buried him,
and that’s all there is to it.
How neatly a cat sleeps,
sleeps with its paws and its posture,
sleeps with its wicked claws,
and with its unfeeling blood,
sleeps with all the rings–
a series of burnt circles–
which have formed the odd geology
of its sand-colored tail.
I should like to sleep like a cat,
with all the fur of time,
with a tongue rough as flint,
with the dry sex of fire;
and after speaking to no one,
stretch myself over the world,
over roofs and landscapes,
with a passionate desire
to hunt the rats in my dreams.
I have seen how the cat asleep
would undulate, how the night
flowed through it like dark water;
and at times, it was going to fall
or possibly plunge into
the bare deserted snowdrifts.
Sometimes it grew so much in sleep
like a tiger’s great-grandfather,
and would leap in the darkness over
rooftops, clouds and volcanoes.
Sleep, sleep cat of the night,
with episcopal ceremony
and your stone-carved moustache.
Take care of all our dreams;
control the obscurity
of our slumbering prowess
with your relentless heart
and the great ruff of your tail.
There are no bells in all the world so sweet as sleigh bells over snow.
The horses arch their necks to hear that pretty music as they go.
If it is dark, you cannot see the horses curvetting and prancing,
But you would know to hear the bells that those who shook them must be dancing.
Jesus, our brother, strong and good,
Was humbly born in a stable rude,
And the friendly beasts around him stood,
Jesus, our brother, strong and good.
“I,”said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
“I carried his mother uphill and down,
I carried his mother to Bethlehem town;
I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown.
“I,” said the cow, all white and red,
“I gave him my manger for his bed,
I gave him hay to pillow his head;
“I,” said the cow, all white and red,
“I,” said the sheep with curly horn,
“I gave him my wool for his blanket warm,
He wore my coat on Christmas morn;
I,” said the sheep with curly horn.
“I,” said the dove, from the rafters high,
“I cooed him to sleep that he should not cry,
We cooed him to sleep, my mate and I;
I,” said the dove, from the rafters high.
And every beast, by some good spell,
In the stable dark was glad to tell,
Of the gift he gave Immanuel,
The gift he gave Immanuel.
May 31st and only 214 days until the end of the year. I’m not counting – just another useless piece of information…
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.
“We are nearer to Spring
Than we are to September,”
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
This is National Wildlife Week
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 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 forest of the night,
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
~William Blake 1757-1827~