October 18, 2023

Waddington's "The Bat"

         While I’m in the midst of my bat theme, it’s time for a fantasy poem.  This one is by Samuel Waddington (U.K., 1844-1923).

Sleek, faery creature,
Strange freak of Nature
That through the twilight comes and goes,
Could we the mystery
Of thy life's history
Resolve, and learn what no man knows,
From what weird forces,
What hidden sources,
Thy winged soul sprang into being
Then might we clearly
Divine more nearly
The world that lies beyond our seeing.

Quaint, mimic angel!
Thy new evangel
Disclose, and share it now with me,
While through the gloaming
Thus lightly roaming,
Thou flittest round this old oak tree;
Tell me what Ages,
What Cosmic stages,
Evolved thy Spirit in the Past;
The far stars glisten,—
Speak, for I listen;
Teach me the Wisdom that thou hast.

Nay, spectral flitter,
Where glow-worms glitter,
Thou art more silent than the sphinx;
Through eras ended
Thou hast descended
Down from the sphere of 'missing links',—
Like pterodactyl
Thy race runs back till
The distance foils our dazèd sight,
To prehistoric,
Rude, allegoric,
Brute offspring of the Infinite.

The Past hath vanished,
From memory banished,
What of the Future canst thou tell?
In words aesthetic,
Sage and prophetic,
Our doubting and our fears dispel;
When life is over
Shall Darkness cover
Thy twilight wanderings with the Night,—
Or from Death's portal
Wilt thou immortal
Speed forth into the realm of light?

Mute mystic rover!
Could we discover
Thy wisdom though thou answer'st not,
There is no human,
Or man or woman,
But hath the knowledge thou hast got;
We know we know not!
The gods bestow not
On thee a wider, clearer view;—
Thou art surrounded,
On all sides bounded,
By thine own ignorance,—adieu!

        I’m not sure this poem is really exactly fantasy as much as perhaps fantastical musings on the nature of the bat.  But its imagery and metaphors definitely evoke a lot of fantasy, starting right in line 1 when the bat is called a “faery creature.”  I like the references to “winged soul,” “more silent than the sphinx,” “offspring of the Infinite,” “mystic rover,” and so on.  On the other hand, I don’t agree with the conclusion that despite all that eloquently invoked mystic wisdom, the bat is wholly bounded by ignorance!  Not that I think the actual little animals carry the burden of so much lore, but still, they’re undoubtedly masters of their own way of life.

[Picture: Fruit Bat, linocut by Kerry and Neil Stavely (Image from the artists’ Etsy shop HorseAndHare).]

1 comment:

Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

Strange poem - until the last five lines he bats are talked to/about as sage, mystical creatures. The ending is a total let down in my book.