Poetry, Visual Arts
Art, Language Arts, Social Studies
2 - 8
You will need
Journals, art materials
The other animals are our cousins. All children know this. But as we ‘grow up’ we are trained to think that that doesn’t matter. But celebrating the existence of animals is certainly an ancient human pastime.
Children of all societies include animals in their communities, and all over the world suffer the painful surprise that adults do not give animals that membership status.
This Activity asks students to explore in writing one particular encounter with one particular animal, remembering that the word“animal” names a huge territory that includes feathers as well as fur, scales as well as frogskin. It even contains iridescent damselfly wings.
The power of art proceeds from the particular to the general, but almost never from the general to the specific. That’s because our emotions are awakened by specific events brought to life by the painter’s color or the poet’s words. Our emotions are not awakened powerfully by generalities.
In other words, do not write a poem about ‘dogs’. Write a poem which describes one special moment with one dog.
Write from a direct personal encounter with one animal at one moment.
This is far more likely to produce a poem than trying to write generally about any animal. Do not, for example, tell yourself you will write a poem about “my cat.” Instead, tell yourself you will search your memory for one certain moment between you and your cat.
Do not rhyme this poem, if you can avoid it. Don’t be cute, don’t be clever. Don’t stay on the surface. Dive deep into your heart for your words.
You might think of this piece of writing as an attempt to discover and reflect on what one brief experience with an animal means to you.
Your poem may turn out to be a celebration and filled with joy, or it may turn out to be filled with the tender sadness many feel about animals. That, of course, is up to you—but you would do well to recall that there are birds, and they do sing.
Being in the presence of animals is a source of joy for humans. Try to show that joy in the way you describe your animal encounter.
Caution: Remember that animals are not humans, do not have human reasons for what they do, and do not use their minds in human ways.
The challenge, in an age of increasing distance from animals, may be to include any infusion of joy the animal encounter gave you.
Read Aloud and discuss this wonderful prose-poem by Jim Heynen
What Happened During the Ice Storm
One winter there was a freezing rain. How beautiful! people said when things outside started to shine with ice. But the freezing rain kept coming. Tree branches glistened like glass. Then broke like glass. Ice thickened on the windows until everything outside blurred. farmers moved their livestock into the barns, and most animals were safe. But not the pheasants. Their eyes froze shut.
Some farmers went ice-skating down the gravel roads with clubs to harvest pheasants that sat helplessly in the roadside ditches. The boys went out into the freezing rain to find pheasants too. They saw dark spots along a fence. Pheasants, all right. Five or six of them. The boys slid their feet along slowly, trying not to break the ice that covered the snow. They slid up close to the pheasants . The pheasants pulled their heads down between their wings. They couldn’t tell how easy it was to see them huddled there.
The boys stood still in the icy rain. Their breath came out in slow puffs of steam. The pheasants’' breath came out in quick little white puffs. One lifted its head and turned it from side to side, but the pheasant was blindfolded with ice and didn't flush.
The boys had not brought clubs, or sacks, or anything but themselves. They stood over the pheasants, turning their own heads, looking at each other, each expecting the other to do something. To pounce on a pheasant, or to yell Bang! Things around them were shining and dripping with icy rain. The barbed-wire fence. The fence posts. The broken stems of grass. Even the grass seeds. The grass seeds looked like little yolks inside gelatin whites. And the pheasants looked like unborn birds glazed in egg white. Ice was hardening on the boys' caps and coats. Soon they would be covered with ice too.
Then one of the boys said, Shh. He was taking off his coat, the thin layer of ice splintering in flakes as he pulled his arms from the sleeves. But the inside of the coat was dry and warm. He covered two of the crouching pheasants with his coat, rounding the back of it over them like a shell. The other boys did the same. They covered all the helpless pheasants. The small gray hens and the larger brown cocks. Now the boys felt the rain soaking through their shirts and freezing. They ran across the slippery fields, unsure of their footing, the ice clinging to their skin as they made their way toward the blurry lights of the house.
Please read aloud some of the following pieces aloud, with or without discussion.
MAGIC WORDS (INUIT)
by Edward Field, from Knud Rasmussen
In the very earliest time,
when both people and animals lived on earth,
a person could become an animal if he wanted to
and an animal could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people
and sometimes animals
and there was no difference.
All spoke the same language.
That was the time when words were like magic.
The human mind had mysterious powers.
A word spoken by chance
might have strange consequences.
It would suddenly come alive
and what people wanted to happen could happen—
all you had to do was say it.
Nobody could explain this:
That's the way it was.
But ask now the beasts,
and they shall teach thee;
and the fowls of the air,
and they shall teach thee;
Or speak to the earth,
and it shall teach thee;
And the fishes of the sea
shall declare unto thee.
—Job 12: 7–8, King James Bible
Let my words
be bright with animals,
images the flash of a gull's wing.
If we pretend
that we are at the center,
and that moles and kingfishers,
eels and coyotes
are at the edge of grace,
then we circle, dead moons
about a cold sun.
This morning I ask only
the blessing of the crayfish,
the beatitude of the birds;
to wear the skin of the bear
in my songs;
to work like a man with my hands.
COME INTO ANIMAL PRESENCE
Come into animal presence.
No man is so guileless as
the serpent. The lonely white
rabbit on the roof, is a star
twitching its ears at the rain.
The llama intricately
folding its hind legs to be seated
not disdains but mildly
disregards human approval.
What joy when the insouciant
armadillo glances at us and doesn't
quicken his trotting
across the track into the palm brush.
What is this joy? That no animal
falters, but knows what it must do?
That the snake has no blemish,
that the rabbit inspects his strange surroundings
in white star-silence? The llama
rests in dignity, the armadillo
has some intention to pursue in the palm-forest.
Those who were sacred have remained so,
holiness does not dissolve, it is a presence of
bronze, only the sight that saw it
faltered and turned from it.
An old joy returns in holy presence.
For the animal shall not be measured by man.
In a world older and more complete than ours
they move finished and complete,
gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained,
living by voices we shall never hear.
They are not brethren, they are not underlings;
they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time,
fellow beings of the splendour and travail of the earth.”
“One does not meet
oneself until one
catches the reflection
in an eye
other than human.”
— Loren Eisely
Through light morning fog
a possum sifts snow for something she can eat.
Her ears are hairless pink, black-ridged
on edges where they froze one night.
Her pink tailtip has frozen off as well,
its end is frostbite black. But here she is,
stubborn supple hands sifting snow in fog
the funky white of her wide possum back.
In bright sun,
the indigo bunting
lands on a white tulip,
bends it for a breath
The black dog trots across the road.
Something slack dangles from his jaws.
He's found some creature dead.
Tail held high, proud head,
he prances joy with all four paws.
He is so pleased I share his grin.
Joy lives where it will.
The green heron lifts his crest,
every feather on his head erect
as the snake dangles from his beak,
his yellow hunter's eye burns bright.
He stretches high his russet neck,
flips up his beak and swallows long.
He folds his neck and crouches
just above the water on a branch,
and as his crest settles to his skull
his yellow hunter's eye burns bright.
• Draw and/or Paint the animal you wrote about. Capture the moment.