March 9, 2012

Three Creatures that Never Were

        As foreshadowed in a post a few weeks ago, here are three poems from Eric Carle's Dragons Dragons.  Each captures in its way not just a description of the mythical creature in question, but the way fantasy at its best makes us feel: that we can come to a place where there is mystery and wonder, and beauty even in danger, and where anything is possible.

As the sun
Is going down,
And shadows mix
With yellow sand,
He rises slowly,
Stretches, stands,
Wades into the Nile to wash
Mummy-dust and sand fleas off -
Licks heavy paws
With heavy tongue
Until the cool night air is gone.
While on Egyptian earth
He drops dry purrs,
Ground out like powdered rock.
                - Deborah Chandra (1991)

          He could not be captured,
          He could not be bought,
          His running was rhythm,
          His standing was thought;
          With one eye on sorrow,
          And one eye on mirth,
          He galloped in heaven
          And gambolled on earth
          And only the poet
          With wings to his brain
          Can mount him and ride him
          Without any rein,
          The stallion of heaven,
          The steed of the skies,
          The horse of the singer
          Who sings as he flies.
                          - Eleanor Farjeon, from The Children's Bells (1969)

        And my favorite, just a fragment…

        The Unicorn
Oh this is the animal that never was.
They hadn't seen one; but just the same, they loved
its graceful movement, the way it stood
looking at them calmly, with clear eyes…
                - Ranier Maria Rilke (1922, translation by Stephen Mitchell, 1982)
[Pictures: fragment of limestone relief from Persepolis, fourth century BCE (image from the British Museum);
Unicorn, mixed media collage by Eric Carle, from Eric Carle's Dragons Dragons, 1991.]
Poetry from Eric Carle's Dragons Dragons and other creatures that never were, compiled by Laura Whipple, Philomel Books, 1991.

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