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MHS Library | Our Fragile Environment

Animal poetry

Photo by Harvey Sapir:


Nature and Wellbeing

How does nature impact our wellbeing?   

How can we write creatively about this? 

The Roman poet Virgil wrote a series of pastoral poems called the Ecologues which often involved a dialogue between shepherds.   

Eclogue I: The Dialogue of Meliboeus and Tityrus 


Tityrus, lying there, under the spreading beech-tree cover, 

you study the woodland Muse, on slender shepherd’s pipe. 

We are leaving the sweet fields and the frontiers of our country: 

we are fleeing our country: you, Tityrus, idling in the shade, 

teach the woods to echo ‘lovely Amaryllis’. 


O Meliboeus, a god has created this leisure for us. 

Since he’ll always be a god to me, a gentle lamb 

from our fold, will often drench his altar. 

Through him my cattle roam as you see, and I 

allow what I wish to be played by my rural reed. 


Well I don’t begrudge you: rather I wonder at it: there’s such 

endless trouble everywhere over all the countryside. See, 

I drive my goats, sadly: this one, Tityrus, I can barely lead. 

Here in the dense hazels, just now, she birthed twins, 

the hope of the flock, alas, on the bare stones. 

I’d have often recalled that this evil was prophesied to me, 

by the oak struck by lightning, if my mind had not been dulled. 

But, Tityrus, tell me then, who is this god of yours? 


Meliboeus, foolishly, I thought the City they call Rome 

was like ours, to which we shepherds are often accustomed 

to drive the tender young lambs of our flocks. 

So I considered pups like dogs, kids like their mothers, 

so I used to compare the great with the small. 

But this city indeed has lifted her head as high among others, 

as cypress trees are accustomed to do among the weeping willows. 


And what was the great occasion for you setting eyes on Rome? 


Liberty, that gazed on me, though late, in my idleness, 

when the hairs of my beard fell whiter when they were cut, 

gazed yet, and came to me after so long a time, 

when Amaryllis was here, and Galatea had left me. 

Since, while Galatea swayed me, I confess, 

there was never a hope of freedom, or thought of saving. 

My hand never came home filled with coins, 

though many a victim left my sheepfolds, 

and many a rich cheese was pressed for the ungrateful town. 


Amaryllis, I wondered why you called on the gods so mournfully, 

and for whom you left the apples there on the trees: 

Tityrus was absent: Tityrus, here, the very pines, 

the very springs and orchards were calling out for you. 


What could I do? I could not be rid of my bondage 

elsewhere, or find gods so ready to help me. 

There, Meliboeus, I saw that youth for whom 

our altars smoke for six days twice a year. 

There he was first to reply to my request: 

‘Slave, go feed you cattle as before: rear your bulls.’ 


Fortunate old man, so these lands will remain yours. 

And they’re wide enough for you: though bare stone, 

and pools with muddy reeds cover all your pastures. 

No strange plants will tempt your pregnant ewes, 

no contagious disease from a neighbour’s flock will harm them. 

Fortunate old man, here you’ll find the cooling shade, 

among familiar streams and sacred springs. 

Here, as always, on your neighbour’s boundary, the hedge, 

its willow blossoms sipped by Hybla’s bees, 

will often lull you into sleep with the low buzzing: 

there, under the high cliff, the woodsman sings to the breeze: 

while the loud wood-pigeons, and the doves, 

your delight, will not cease their moaning from the tall elm. 


So the swift deer will sooner feed on air, 

and the seas leave the fish naked on shore, 

or the Parthian drink the Saône, the German the Tigris, 

both in exile wandering each other’s frontiers, 

than that gaze of his will fade from my mind. 


But we must go, some to the parched Africans, 

some to find Scythia, and Crete’s swift Oaxes, 

and the Britons wholly separated from all the world. 

Ah, will I gaze on my country’s shores, after long years, 

and my poor cottage, its roof thatched with turf, 

and gazing at a few ears of corn, see my domain? 

An impious soldier will own these well-tilled fields, 

a barbarian these crops. See to what war has led 

our unlucky citizens: for this we sowed our lands. 

Now graft your pears, Meliboeus, plant your rows of vines. 

Away with you my once happy flock of goats. 

Lying in some green hollow, I’ll no longer see you 

clinging far off to some thorn-filled crag: 

I’ll sing no songs: no longer grazed by me, my goats, 

will you chew the flowering clover and the bitter willows. 


Yet you might have rested here with me tonight 

on green leaves: we have ripe apples, 

soft chestnuts, and a wealth of firm cheeses: 

and now the distant cottage roofs show smoke 

and longer shadows fall from the high hills. 


From <>  


Virgil's Eclogue 1 / Ecloga 1 Vergilii 

animals by Brian Bilston

Animal poems

Photo by Egor Kamelev:

The Locust 
What is a locust? 
Its head, a grain of corn; its neck, the hinge of a knife; 
Its horns, a bit of thread; its chest is smooth and burnished; 
Its body is like a knife-handle; 
Its hock, a saw; its spittle, ink; 
Its underwings, clothing for the dead. 
On the ground—it is laying eggs; 
In flight—it is like the clouds. 
Approaching the ground, it is rain glittering in the sun; 
Lighting on a plant, it becomes a pair of scissors; 
Walking, it becomes a razor; 
Desolation walks with it. 
Translated from the Malagasy [from Madagascar] by A. Marre and Willard R. Trask 

The Maldive Shark 

About the Shark, phlegmatical one, 

Pale sot of the Maldive sea, 

The sleek little pilot-fish, azure and slim, 

How alert in attendance be. 

From his saw-pit of mouth, from his charnel of maw 

They have nothing of harm to dread, 

But liquidly glide on his ghastly flank 

Or before his Gorgonian head; 

Or lurk in the port of serrated teeth 

In white triple tiers of glittering gates, 

And there find a haven when peril’s abroad, 

An asylum in jaws of the Fates! 

They are friends; and friendly they guide him to prey, 

Yet never partake of the treat— 

Eyes and brains to the dotard lethargic and dull, 

Pale ravener of horrible meat. 


The Earthworm 

Who really respects the earthworm, 
the farmworker far under the grass in the soil. 
He keeps the earth always changing. 
He works entirely full of soil, 
speechless with soil, and blind. 

He is the underneath farmer, the underground one, 
where the fields are getting on their harvest clothes. 
Who really respects him, 
this deep and calm earth-worker, 
this deathless, gray, tiny farmer in the planet’s soil. 
-Harry Martinson 

The Donkey 

When fishes flew and forests walked 

   And figs grew upon thorn, 

Some moment when the moon was blood 

   Then surely I was born. 


With monstrous head and sickening cry 

   And ears like errant wings, 

The devil’s walking parody 

   On all four-footed things. 


The tattered outlaw of the earth, 

   Of ancient crooked will; 

Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb, 

   I keep my secret still. 


Fools! For I also had my hour; 

   One far fierce hour and sweet: 

There was a shout about my ears, 

   And palms before my feet. 




A lizard ran out on a rock and looked up, listening 

no doubt to the sound of the spheres. 

And what a dandy fellow! the right toss of a chin for you 

and swirl of a tail! 

If men were as much men as lizards are lizards 

they'd be worth looking at.  

D H Lawrence 


The Tyger  


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 forests of the night:  

What immortal hand or eye, 

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry? 




I can imagine, in some other world 
Primeval-dumb, far back 
In that most awful stillness, that only gasped and hummed, 
Humming-birds raced down the avenues. 


Before anything had a soul, 
While life was a heave of Matter, half inanimate, 
This little bit chipped off in brilliance 
And went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems. 


I believe there were no flowers, then, 
In the world where the humming-bird flashed ahead of creation. 
I believe he pierced the slow vegetable veins with his long beak. 


Probably he was big 
As mosses, and little lizards, they say were once big. 
Probably he was a jabbing, terrifying monster. 
We look at him through the wrong end of the long telescope of Time, 
Luckily for us. 





Nature and wellbeing

Irish History 1916 through to 1923 - W.B. Yeats (left) and Lady Gregory  (right) who wrote the revolutionary play, Cathleen Ni Houlihan. Cathleen Ni  Houlihan The production of the revolutionary play, Cathleen

The famous Irish poet William Butler Yeats (pronounced: YAY-ts) spent many of his early years travelling through the Irish countryside with his friend and fellow playwright and folklorist, Lady Augusta Gregory.  They spent time listening and noting down the folk tales, myths and legends of the locals.  Yeats went on to write some of the most famous and oft quoted poems of the twentieth century including this one which expresses his appreciation for a corner of County Sligo, Ireland, and its natural beauty. 

The Lake Isle of Innisfree  


I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, 

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made; 

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee, 

And live alone in the bee-loud glade. 


And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, 

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings; 

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow, 

And evening full of the linnet’s wings. 


I will arise and go now, for always night and day 

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; 

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, 

I hear it in the deep heart’s core. 



  1. This recent article from the American Psychological Association (APA) outlines some of the latest research into the way in which nature can impact people's health. 



Listen to renowned poet Grace Nichols who wrote the poem 'Island Man'.  It is about a West Indian immigrant who is waking up to his life in London, reflecting the experience of many who were part of a wave of immigration to the UK from the Caribbean in the 1960s.  She speaks of the way our environments relate to our identities and that one can live between (or in?) two places at once.   


Island Man Lyrics

And Island man wakes up
To the sound of blue surf
In his head
The steady breaking and wombing

Wild seabirds
And fisherman pulling out to sea
The sun surfacing defiantly

From the east
Of his small emerald island
He always comes back groggily groggily

Comes back to sands
Of a grey metallic soar
To surge of wheels
To dull North Circular roar

Muffling muffling
His crumpled pillow waves
Island man heaves himself

Another London day