“Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.”
Dr. Albert Schweitzer
1875 – 1965
This is my favorite by Schweitzer; it’s not a “poem,” but a story, a true story. No surprise it’s got birds at the center of it :
“”This was a horrible proposal [that the eight year-old Albert join a friend in killing birds with a sling] . . . but 1 dared not refuse for fear he would laugh at me. So we came to a tree which was still bare, and on which the birds were singing out gaily in the morning, without any fear of us. Then stooping over like an Indian on the hunt, my companion placed a pebble in the leather of his sling and stretched it. Obeying his peremptory glance I did the same, with frightful twinges of conscience, vowing firmly that I would shoot when he did. At that very moment the church bells began to sound, mingling with the song of the birds in the sunshine. It was the warning bell that came a half-hour before the main bell. For me it was a voice from heaven. I threw the sling down, scaring the birds away, so that they were safe from my companion’s sling, and fled home. And ever afterwards when the bells of Holy Week ring out amidst the leafless trees in the sunshine I remember with moving gratitude how they rang into my heart at that time the commandment: ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ “
And, one of my all-time, if not favorite children’s poems, which has stayed with me always…I read it over and over as a child, and, as then, I wept as I just read this again:
The Nightengale and the Rose, Oscar Wilde
Another favorite — I first read this as a teen in an antique book…darn if I can’t find that book now! I think of it every year around this holiday season. Was older then, but cried just the same:
The Fir Tree, 1845, Hans Christian Andersen
And speaking of crying, if you ever need a good purging – don’t we all sometimes? — read this and it will stick with you, I can almost guarantee it. My dad even cried when he read this:
They Called Him Rags
They called him Rags, he was just a cur
But twice on the Western Line,
That little old bunch of faithful fur
Had offered his life for mine.
And all he got was bones and bread
And the leaving of soldiers’ grub,
But he’d give his heart for a pat on the head,
A friendly tickle or rub.
And Rags got home with the regiment,
And then, in the breaking away–,
Well, whether they stole him, or whether he went,
I am not prepared to say.
But we mustered out, some to beer and gruel,
And some to sherry and shad,
And I went back to the Sawbones School,
Where I was an undergrad.
One day they took us budding M.D.’s
To one of those institutes
Where they demonstrate every new disease
By means of bisected brutes.
They had one animal tacked and tied
And slit like a full-dressed fish,
With his vitals pumping away inside
As pleasant as one might wish.
I stopped to look like the rest, of course,
And the beast’s eyes leveled mine;
His short tail thumped with a feeble force,
And he uttered a tender whine.
It was Rags, yes, Rags! who was martyred there,
Who was quartered and crucified,
And he whined that whine which is doggish prayer
And he licked my hand–and died.
And I was no better in part nor whole
Than the gang I was found among,
And his innocent blood was on the soul
Which he blessed with his dying tongue.
Well! I’ve seen men go to courageous death
In the air, on sea, on land!
But only a dog would spend his breath
In a kiss for his murderer’s hand.
And if there’s no heaven for love like that,
For such four-legged fealtly–well!
If I have any choice, I tell you flat,
I’ll take my chance in hell.
I began with and will end with Albert Schweitzer — “Prayer For The Animals”
Hear our humble prayer, O God,
For our friends the animals,
Especially for animals who are suffering;
For animals that are over worked,
Underfed, cruelly treated;
For all wistful creatures in captivity
That beat their wings against bars;
For any that are hunted or lost or
Deserted or frightened or hungry;
For all that must be put to death.
We entreat for them all the mercy
And pity, and for those who deal with
Them we ask a heart of compassion
And gentle hands and kindly words.
Make us, ourselves, to be true
Friends to animals and so to share
The blessings of the merciful.
Dr. Albert Schweitzer
I have a childhood favorite story that I cannot recall and it’s been killing me for YEARS trying! It was a small, paper book, actually. The theme was “cleanliness,” I believe…involved a lion and a “messy” girl…something about hosing down the lion/girl, lol. Anyway, I’d LOVE to find that story again. If it rings a bell to anyone, please send me a clue!
Any favorite animal-themed or children’s poems to share?
Or, whenever you need a good ol’ cry…what do you do/think/read?