May 01, 2006

Terence, This is Stupid Stuff

"Terence, This is Stupid Stuff," by A. E. Housman, a long-dead British poet, is one of my daughter's favorite poems. We were reciting it together over breakfast—not that I remember all that much of it—and I decided it might be amusing and serious enough to interest my readers.

For those of you who shy away from poetry, or find it hard to follow: The first stanza is being said to Terence, the poet, by his friends, complaining that they think his poetry is stupid and useless and depressing.

"Come," they say, "make poems that are lively."

The rest of the poem is Terence's reply, explaining why he thinks poetry—his style of poetry, at any rate—is worth the writing and the hearing.

"If you want lively stuff, drink," he says. "While you are drunk, all will be well with the world. But it won't last, and when you are sober again, the world will be as it always has been. If you want to understand the world better, turn to poetry. It might even enable you to survive longer." Thus, the gist of his message, which ends on a thoughtful note. But a plain summary like this cannot convey the humor of this poem. Read! Laugh! Enjoy!

(Also note that "victuals," which means food, is pronounced "vittles," rhyming with skittles.)

Continue reading "Terence, This is Stupid Stuff" »

November 09, 2005

Navajo Poetry

This page has an incredibly moving poem, Enemy Way comes With War, by Johnny Rustywire, about a Navajo man gone off to Iraq.

When you have read this poem, be sure to go back to this Web siite's home page to read some of the other writings by Johnny Rustywire.

October 09, 2005

Endangered Species

"They've come back from the brink of extinction," Naruba sang with satisfaction. "They were once down to only 146, and now they are up to a healthy 15,000. No further legislation is required to protect them."

"But that's not enough! That isn't even a tiny fraction of how many there once were!" Botari protested hotly. "We must have this new legislation to protect them! Their wide-spread habitat destruction, the illegal poaching, the fact that there is still one group that eats them as a delicacy—all that has to stop!"

"That group only collects scientific specimens," Naruba replied coolly. "And after they have dispatched the specimens, it only makes sense that the remains go to a good use."

Botari snorted. "'Dispatched.' You mean killed. Illegally. And collecting them as 'scientific specimens' is just a cover for hunting a species that is teetering on the brink of extinction."

Naruba glanced fondly at Botari. "You worry too much. And who are we to judge another's customs? So what if they eat them? They only harvest 500 a year."

"Harvest," Botari growled. "Exactly, As though they are some kind fo crop or food animal. And that 500 is a significant percentage of the remaining population," Botari paused to marshal his arguments. "And what about all the other threats to their survival? How can any of us feel good when there are so few of them left alive? What are we going to do to educate others so they stop hunting them, stop killing them, stop destroying their habitat? The world will be a far poorer place without them. They are a part of the vast circle of life, just as we all are, and they play a vital role in their interactions with all other species and with the world. We're not taking good care of them!"

Naruba gave Botari a long, assessing look.

"I know we can co-exist with them," Botari added, but with less heat.

Naruba kept looking at him silently.

Botari was the first to drop his eyes and turn away.

Finally Naruba spoke softly. "And how many humans do you think protested on our behalf when we were the endangered species? How many species went extinct before the Big Change nearly wiped out humans, giving us 'animals' a chance to recover, to thrive?"

"Many! I know there were many!" Botari wailed in anguish.

"Indeed. And whether you are saying that there were many species who went extinct—and there were, or whether you are saying that there were many humans who cared, there were too many, and not enough. Who knows what the world would be like now had the Change not happened? Some Divine Providence intervened on behalf of all other species, to stop the humans from destroying everyone's habitat, to stop them from poisoning everything with their dangerous chemicals and their pesticides and their herbicides and their polluting industries. Be grateful there are even 15,000 of them left. Let the grizzlies hunt their quota. Let the human habitat destruction continue. Maybe the world will be better off without them."

"I can't accept that, Naruba, and you know it. You know how close we once were to humans—how we loved them, cherished them, comforted them when all other species turned their backs on them."

Naruba nodded in sympathy. "I know that, Botari. You dogs were always faithful to them. But my species has only recently recovered enough for us to feel that we have a good chance to thrive. Why, for a while there, some of us thought we were the last of our kind left."

Botari sighed. "You are right. You are right on all points. And yet I still cannot help but wish that we hadn't turned around and done the same thing to them that they did to us. There were many kind, loving, decent humans who did not do any of those things."

"And did they all speak up, as you are doing? Did they protest? Did they communicate their concerns, and stop using pesticides and herbicides and the products of bad industries?"

Botari hung his head and spoke in a small voice. "No, not all." He brightened. "But many did. Many did. Should they all suffer because of the ill actions of the majority?"

Naruba pondered this a moment. "Perhaps not, but that is how it happened. They made their bed; let them now lie in it."

Botari made a small anguished sound. "That isn't how I like to think we are, Naruba."

"Perhaps not," Naruba replied thoughtfully, "But it is how they were."