Tuesday, November 25, 2014

poetry about animals (and how we treat them) through the ages

            In September, I went to a couple of workshops at the Belfast (Maine) Poetry Festival. One of the workshops was about poetry which interacts with current events and social issues.

            I don’t know much about poetry yet, I am just learning. But the workshop leader surprised me when she said that poetry is not traditionally seen (by academics) as a subject which dwells on politics or current events. I was very surprised to hear this. Maybe it’s just due to my personal tastes, but I find I am only really drawn to poetry and poets who did (or do) speak to these themes. And my special interest is animal rights.

            I am very curious about the people whom I see as my “ancestors,” who are writers, theologians, feminists, etc. throughout history who considered the welfare and even the equality of non-human animals in at least some of their work. I am not trying to say these people were “vegans” in the modern sense of the word. I just mean their thought provided a heritage and a stepping-stone for us.

            Due to my interests, I have come across a few writers who used poetry to address animal rights. I will put a few pieces of work down here, to help anyone else who is seeking the information. Drink deep at the well of inspiration!  


            Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was not well-known as a poet until after her death. She was a very private person, so her lifestyle and philosophies are only partially known. There is evidence that she was vegetarian for at least part of her life, and several of her poems contain animals as subject and metaphor. Dickinson had hundreds of poems, mostly “self-published” into hand-sewn notebooks, stashed away in her home and found by relatives after her death. None of them were titled, though many have been titled or numbered by subsequent publishers.

            Here is just one of her poems (untitled) that touches on the lives of animals she knew in her own little world.

IF I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

-- Emily Dickinson


            Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) was a more public figure and a well-published author during her own lifetime. Her best known work is “The Yellow  Wallpaper,” which is a women’s studies classic and is a fictionalized account of Gilman’s own experience with post-partum depression (specifically the way her male doctor and her husband responded to her distress).

Like many feminists (suffragists) of her era, Gilman also saw the plight of non-human animals as very connected to the plight of women, or other oppressed human beings. In her book, “Herland,” she deals with issues of sexism and domination-culture by writing about a land of women. The story is told through the incredulous point of view of some men who stumble upon their society and are shocked by the different culture these women have.

A prominent aspect of this fictional culture is that the women do not exploit animals for food or labor. In one section of the text, the male visitors ask where the women get milk without cows, and a woman tells them that they rely on their own milk. When the man tells her about the way his society farms cattle for milk, the woman is shocked by this exploitation of female animals and their babies. So in 1915, Gilman is laying out the ethics behind feminist veganism which are still considered radical and fringe, today.

Besides Herland, here is one poem Gilman wrote on the topic of the treatment of nonhuman animals (specifically cattle being raised for meat).


Below my window goes the cattle train,
And stands for hours along the river park,
Fear, Cold, Exhaustion, Hunger, Thirst and
Dumb brutes we call them - Hark!
The bleat of frightened mother -calling young,
Deep-throated agony, shrill frantic cries,
Hoarse murmur of the thirst-distended tongue
Up to my window rise.
Bleak lies the shore to northern wind and sleet,
In open-slatted cars they stand and freeeze
Beside the broad blue river in the heat
All waterless go these.
Hot, fevered, frightened, trampled, bruised
and torn;
Frozen to death before the ax descends;
We kill these weary creatures; sore and worn,
And eat them-- with our friends.

-Charlotte Perkins Gilman-





Percy Shelley (1792-1822) was an ethical vegetarian powerhouse, and wrote priceless poetry as well as prose on the subject. Thanks to him, we have a wonderfully articulate record of the thought process amongst ethical vegetarians of his era. His wife and collaborator, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, wrote “Frankenstein, Or, the Modern-day Prometheus” with Percy’s support and with these vegetarian ideas that they shared as the philosophical foundation for the entire story.

The full text of his “Vindication of a Natural Diet” (1813) can be found at http://www.animalrightshistory.org/animal-rights-c1785-1837/romantic-s/she-percy-shelley/1813-queen-mab.htm

But I have sampled from it below:


Man at his creation was endowed with the gift of perpetual youth; that is, he was not formed to be a sickly suffering creature as we now see him, but to enjoy health, and to sink by slow degrees into the bosom of his parent earth without disease or pain. Prometheus first taught the use of animal food (primus bovem occidit Prometheus1) and of fire, with which to render it more digestible and pleasing to the taste. Jupiter, and the rest of the gods, foreseeing the consequences of the inventions, were amused or irritated at the short-sighted devices of the newly-formed creature, and left him to experience the sad effects of them. Thirst, the necessary concomitant of a flesh diet,” (perhaps of all diet vitiated by culinary preparation) “ensued; water was resorted to, and man forfeited the inestimable gift of health which he had received from heaven: he became diseased, the partaker of a precarious existence, and no longer descended slowly to his grave” (pp. 8-9 ).


But just disease to luxury succeeds,

And every death its own avenger breeds;

The fury passions from that blood began,

And turned on man a fiercer savage - Man.


Man, and the animals whom he has infected with his society, or depraved by his dominion, are alone diseased. The wild hog, the mouflon, the bison, and the wolf, are perfectly exempt from malady, and invariably die either from external violence, or natural old age. But the domestic hog, the sheep, the cow, and the dog, are subject to an incredible variety of distempers; and, like the corrupters of their nature, have physicians who thrive upon their miseries. The supereminence of man is like Satan's, a supereminence of pain; and the majority of his species, doomed to penury , disease, and crime, have reason to curse the untoward event, that by enabling him to communicate his sensations, raised him above the level of his fellow animals. But the steps that have been taken are irrevocable. The whole of human science is comprised in one question: - How can the advantages of intellect and civilization, be reconciled with the liberty and pure pleasures of natural life? How can we take the benefits, and reject the evils of the system, which is now interwoven with all the fibres of our being? - I believe that abstinence from animal food and spirituous liquors, would in a great measure capacitate us for the solution of this important question.


Another website has given an excellent summary of Shelley’s vegetarian themes in different bodies of work (http://www.think-differently-about-sheep.com/Animal%20Rights%20A%20History%20Percy%20Bysshe%20Shelly.htm) which includes this clip from Shelley’s best known poem with vegetarian themes, “Queen Mab” (book eight):

How strange is human pride!
I tell thee that those living things,
To whom the fragile blade of grass,
That springeth in the morn
And perisheth ere noon,
Is an unbounded world;
I tell thee that those viewless beings,
Whose mansion is the smallest particle
Of the impassive atmosphere,
Think, feel, and live like man;
That their affections and antipathies,
Like his, produce the Laws
Ruling their moral state;
And the minutest throb
That through their frame diffuses
The slightest, faintest motion,
Is fixed and indispensable
As the majestic laws
That rule yon rolling orbs. (21)

Immortal upon Earth: No longer now,
He slays the lamb that looks him in the face,
And horribly devours his mangled flesh,
Which, still avenging nature's broken law,
Kindled all putrid humours in his frame,
All evil passions, and all vain belief,
Hatred, despair, and loathing in his mind,
The germs of misery, death, disease, and crime. (59)

No longer now the winged habitants,
That in the woods their sweet lives sing away,
Flee from the form of man; but gather round,
And prune their sunny feathers on the hands
Which little children stretch in friendly sport
Towards these dreadless partners of their play.
All things are void of terror: man has lost
His terrible prerogative, and stands
An equal amidst equals: happiness
And science dawn though late, upon the earth;
Peace cheers the mind, health renovates the frame;
Disease and pleasure cease to mingle here,
Reason and passion cease to combat there;
Whilst each unfettered o'er the earth extends
Their all-subduing energies, and wield
The sceptre of a vast dominion there;
Whilst every shape and mode of matter lends
Its force to the omnipotence of mind,
Which from its dark mine drags the gem of truth
To decorate its paradise of peace. (59)


            George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was a prolific Irish playwright, who also wrote great essays and poems. He was a long-time vegetarian, as well as an activist using his writing to combat blood sports, vivisection, and general trends of animal exploitation.  Here are a couple of quotes from him (I found at: http://www.ivu.org/history/shaw/vegetarianism.html)  that give you the picture:

“A dinner!
How horrible!
I am to be made the pretext for killing all those wretched animals and birds, and fish! Thank you for nothing.
Now if it were to be a fast instead of a feast; say a solemn three days' abstention from corpses in my honour, I could at least pretend to believe that it was disinterested.
Blood sacrifices are not in my line.”
- Letter 30 December 1929

“I was told that my diet was so poor that I could not repair the bones that were broken and operated on. So I have just had an Xradiograph taken; and lo! perfectly mended solid bone so beautifully white that I have left instructions that, if I die, a glove stretcher is to be made of me and sent to you as a souvenir.” - Letter to Mrs.Patrick Campbell

Archibald Henderson, author of a three-volume biography of Shaw, recorded an appropriate conversation with him in 1924, when Shaw was already sixty-eight; it appears in Table-Talks, a colection illustrating the outspoken and witty side of the prolific playwright:

Henderson: So be a good fellow and tell me how you succeeded in remaining so youthful.
Shaw: I don't. I look my age; and I am my age. It is the other people who look older than they are. What can you expect from people who eat corpses and drink spirits?
Henderson: Our time is running short. You will have to be off to speak on behalf of the Labor Party, or Vegetarianism, or Communism, or Fabianism, or what not. You are such an incorrigible publicist that I have not yet got round to literature, or to drama which is popularly supposed to be one of your chief interests.


            The below poem is attributed to him, though it’s origin within his career is unknown, so some people dispute it’s authenticity. Either way, numerous quotes from Shaw in other realms show that this poem is completely within the context of his beliefs.         

We Are The Living Graves Of Murdered Beasts

We are the living graves of murdered beasts

Slaughtered to satisfy our appetites

We never pause to wonder at our feasts

If animals, like men, can possibly have rights

We pray on Sundays that we may have light

To guide our footsteps on the path we tread

We're sick of war

We do not want to fight

The thought of it now fills our hearts with dread

And yet we gorge ourselves upon the dead

Like carrion crows we live and feed on meat

Regardless of the suffering and pain

We cause by doing so.

If thus we treat Defenseless animals for sport or gain

How can we hope in this world to attain the

PEACE we say we are so anxious for

We pray for it o'er hecatombs of slain

To God, while outraging the moral law

Thus cruelty begets its offspring: war.


            Another major writer and thinker who deserves a place here is William Blake (1757-1827). Much like the others mentioned here, Blake used his artistry and his public profile to speak out against the issues of his time affecting non-human animals, especially meat-eating and blood-sports. His very famous poem “Auguries of Innocence” speaks in great detail of his concerns for other creatures. Most people only know the first four lines, probably because the animal-rights message is uncomfortable to many readers.


Auguries of Innocence

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

 And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

 Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

 And Eternity in an hour.

 A Robin Red breast in a Cage

 Puts all heaven in a Rage.

 A dove house fill’d with doves and Pigeons

 Shudders Hell thro’ all its regions.

 A dog starv’d at his Master’s Gate

 Predicts the ruin of the State.

 A Horse misus’d upon the Road

 Calls to Heaven for Human blood.

 Each outcry of the hunted Hare

 A fibre from the Brain does tear.

 A Skylark wounded in the wing,

 A Cherubim does cease to sing.

 The Game Cock clip’d and arm’d for fight

 Does the Rising Sun affright.

 Every Wolf’s and Lion’s howl

 Raises from Hell a Human Soul.

 The wild deer, wand’ring here and there,

 Keeps the Human Soul from Care.

 The Lamb misus’d breeds Public strife

 And yet forgives the Butcher’s Knife.

 The Bat that flits at close of Eve

 Has left the Brain that won’t Believe.

 The Owl that calls upon the Night

 Speaks the Unbeliever’s fright.

 He who shall hurt the little Wren

 Shall never be belov’d by Men.

 He who the Ox to wrath has mov’d

 Shall never be by Woman lov’d.

 The wanton Boy that kills the Fly

 Shall feel the Spider’s enmity.

 He who torments the Chafer’s sprite

 Weaves a Bower in endless Night.

 The Catterpiller on the Leaf

 Repeats to thee thy Mother’s grief.

 Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly,

 For the Last Judgement draweth nigh.

 He who shall train the Horse to War

 Shall never pass the Polar Bar.

 The Beggar’s Dog and Widow’s Cat,

 Feed them and thou wilt grow fat.

 The Gnat that sings his Summer’s song

 Poison gets from Slander’s tongue.

 The poison of the Snake and Newt

 Is the sweat of Envy’s Foot.

 The Poison of the Honey Bee

 Is the Artist’s Jealousy.

 The Prince’s Robes and Beggar’s Rags

 Are Toadstools on the Miser’s Bags.

 A truth that’s told with bad intent.

 Beats all the Lies you can invent.

 It is right it should be so;

 Man was made for Joy and Woe;

 And when this we rightly know

 Thro’ the World we safely go.

 Joy and Woe are woven fine,

 A Clothing for the Soul divine;

 Under every grief and pine

 Runs a joy with silken twine.

 The Babe is more than swaddling Bands;

 Throughout all these Human Lands

 Tools were made, and Born were hands,

 Every Farmer Understands.

 Every Tear from Every Eye

 Becomes a Babe in Eternity;

 This is caught by Females bright

 And return’d to its own delight.

 The Bleat, the Bark, Bellow and Roar

 Are Waves that Beat on Heaven’s Shore.

 The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath

 Writes Revenge in realms of death.

 The Beggar’s Rags, fluttering in Air,

 Does to Rags the Heavens tear.

 The Soldier, arm’d, with Sword and Gun,

 Palsied strikes the Summer’s Sun.

 The poor Man’s Farthing is worth more

 Than all the Gold on Afric’s Shore.

 One Mite wrung from the Labrer’s hands

 Shall buy and sell the Miser’s Lands:

 Or, if protected from on high,

 Does that whole Nation sell and buy.

 He who mocks the Infant’s Faith

 Shall be mock’d in Age and Death.

 He who shall teach the Child to Doubt

 The rotting Grave shall ne’er get out.

 He who respects the Infant’s faith

 Triumphs over Hell and Death.

 The Child’s Toys and the Old Man’s Reasons

 Are the Fruits of the Two seasons.

 The Questioner, who sits so sly,

 Shall never know how to Reply.

 He who replies to words of Doubt

 Doth put the Light of Knowledge out.

 The Strongest Poison ever known

 Came from Caesar’s Laurel Crown.

 Nought can deform the Human Race

 Like to the Armour’s iron brace.

 When Gold and Gems adorn the Plow

 To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow.

 A Riddle or the Cricket’s Cry

 Is to Doubt a fit Reply.

 The Emmet’s Inch and Eagle’s Mile

 Make Lame Philosophy to smile.

 He who Doubts from what he sees

 Will ne’er Believe, do what you Please.

 If the Sun and Moon should doubt,

 They’d immediately Go out.

 To be in a Passion you Good may do,

 But no Good if a Passion is in you.

 The Whore and Gambler, by the State

 Licenc’d, build that Nation’s Fate.

 The Harlot’s cry from Street to Street

 Shall weave Old England’s winding Sheet.

 The Winner’s Shout, the Loser’s Curse,

 Dance before dead England’s Hearse.

 Every Night and every Morn

 Some to Misery are Born.

 Every Morn and every Night

 Some are Born to sweet delight.

 Some are Born to sweet delight,

 Some are Born to Endless Night.

 We are led to Believe a Lie

 When we see not Thro’ the Eye,

 Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night

 When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light.

 God Appears and God is Light

 To those poor Souls who dwell in Night,

 But does a Human Form Display

 To those who Dwell in Realms of day.




            And here are some other poems along these themes that I have stumbled upon. I hope you like them, and are inspired to find (and write) more!


A MODERN GOLDEN CALF (reproduced by the Millennium Guild)

-Earnest A Webbe-

In Cleveland's toughtest quarter,
The famous "Tenderloin"
(Fit namesake for the choicest cut
Of steak for honest coin)
Where dives and tough resorts abound,
Saloons and salry brokers,
Gambling joints and "uncle shops"
And homes for highway chokers,
You'll find a building tall and square
Low'ring o'er the railroad,
Which brings from peaceful pastures fair,
Poor creatures by the trainload;
A smell of blood makes thick the air,
Mute terror in each creature's stare-
Brute men running everywhere,
Their robes with blood aglare!
And on the building's lofty roof,
Like Aaron's calf of old
There rears, that every eye may see
A steer of burnished gold!
For ever this sacrifice goes on
And Christians bend the knee
Nor stop to think their honest coin
Sustains idolatry!

-Earnest A Webbe-




Although they steal my food
within the walls of my humble home
I endeavor never to be rude

And when I outen the lights
These peaceful creatures are free to roam
For even the meek
have their rights

-Tom Earley-




Who is to say that being here is not glorious even
In the most squalid of existence; even in the streets
Festering with garbage, being here is a joyous thing.

Tell the blind woman, blind since birth, that joy is non
Existent; her hyper-extended senses would tell you that
She sensed and loved the tiny feet of mice eating her cheese.

The most visible of happiness occurs when, without the
Expectation of result, something explicable happens; and
That is, the unexpected joy that Sisyphus could not imagine.

For all the rats eating our grain and causing continual
Scourges, they teach us to value life as they endure the
Hatred and interminable tortures of laboratory animals.

Our age builds an enormous citadel of power; formless as
The extensive stress it exacts on us. It no longer respects any
Temples; however, the rat teaches us the temple of survival

The whole family of rodentia is our guru; from rabbits we
Learn to spawn our progeny; from squirrels we learn to
Economize in lean times and from mice we learn humility.

Their veins flow with existence without a Bill of Rights;
What makes us think that we have more entitlements; let
Us love our rodent brothers and chew on life as they do.

-Sai Grafio-



            And what of current poets? One writer who does great poetry about animals and our relationship to them is Gretchen Primack.  She has a book of poetry on the topic called, “Kind.” You can find more info about Gretchen and her work at her website:


Monday, November 24, 2014

Link to Film on Animals and the Buddha

I want to try to share a link to a great movie, free to watch, which was shared with me through the World Peace Diet community. If the link doesn't work, I'm sure you can find it by doing a search on something like, "animals and the Buddha film."   Peace!


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Gentle Thanksgiving

Well, I have been busy again. We had our gentle thanksgiving at the local animal sanctuary (www.peaceridgesanctuary.org) on Nov. 1 and on Nov. 2, we had a two foot blizzard which resulted in five DAYS of power outage for me and mine. Then the day after the power (and heat) came back on, I rushed to Boston to celebrate my step-mom's eightieth year on the earth. Now it's back to life as normal (as such) and things are just starting to feel a little more settled.

I don't have much time to write now, but I figured, 'tis better to have blogged a bit than never to have blogged at all.

So I'll leave you with this photo from our gentle thanksgiving, and warm wishes for your own holidays.

THIS  is how you serve a turkey.    <3 p="">