The Menagerie


William Vaughn Moody

Thank God my brain is not inclined to cut

Such capers every day! I'm just about

Mellow, but then—There goes the tent-flap shut.

Rain's in the wind. I thought so: every snout

Was twitching when the keeper turned me out.

The screaming parrot makes my blood run cold.

Gabriel's trump! the big bull elephant

Squeals "Rain!" to the parched herd. The monkeys scold,

And jabber that it's rain water they want.

(It makes me sick to see a monkey pant.)

I'll foot it home, to try and make believe

I'm sober. After this I stick to beer,

And drop the circus when the sane folks leave.

A man's a fool to look at things too near:

They look back, and begin to cut up queer.

Beasts do, at any rate; especially

Wild devils caged. They have the coolest way

Of being something else than what you see:

You pass a sleek young zebra nosing hay,

A nylghau looking bored and distingué—

And think you've seen a donkey and a bird.

Not on your life! Just glance back, if you dare.

The zebra chews, the nylghau hasn't stirred;

But something's happened. Heaven knows what or where,

To freeze your scalp and pompadour your hair.

I'm not precisely an aeolian lute

Hung in the wandering winds of sentiment,

But drown me if the ugliest, meanest brute

Grunting and fretting in that sultry tent

Didn't just floor me with embarrassment!

'T was like a thunderclap from out the clear,—

One minute they were circus beasts, some grand,

Some ugly, some amusing, and some queer:

Rival attractions to the hobo band,

The flying jenny, and the peanut stand.

Next minute they were old hearth-mates of mine!

Lost people, eyeing me with such a stare!

Patient, satiric, devilish, divine;

A gaze of hopeless envy, squalid care,

Hatred, and thwarted love, and dim despair.

Within my blood my ancient kindred spoke,—

Grotesque and monstrous voices, heard afar

Down ocean caves when behemoth awoke,

Or through fern forests roamed the plesiosaur

Locked with the giant bat in ghastly war.

And suddenly, as in a flash of light,

I saw great Nature working out her plan;

Through all her shapes from mastodon to mite

Forever groping, testing, passing on

To find at last the shape and soul of Man.

Till in the fullness of accomplished time,

Comes brother Forepaugh, upon business bent,

Tracks her through frozen and through torrid clime,

And shows us, neatly labeled in a tent,

The stages of her huge experiment;

Blabbing aloud her shy and reticent hours;

Dragging to light her blinking, slothful moods;

Publishing fretful seasons when her powers

Worked wild and sullen in her solitudes,

Or when her mordant laughter shook the woods.

Here, round about me, were her vagrant births;

Sick dreams she had, fierce projects she essayed;

Her qualms, her fiery prides, her crazy mirths;

The troublings of her spirit as she strayed,

Cringed, gloated, mocked, was lordly, was afraid,

On that long road she went to seek mankind;

Here were the darkling coverts that she beat

To find the Hider she was sent to find;

Here the distracted footprints of her feet

Whereby her soul's Desire she came to greet.

But why should they, her botch-work, turn about

And stare disdain at me, her finished job?

Why was the place one vast suspended shout

Of laughter? Why did all the daylight throb

With soundless guffaw and dumb-stricken sob?

Helpless I stood among those awful cages;

The beasts were walking loose, and I was bagged!

I, I, last product of the toiling ages,

Goal of heroic feet that never lagged,—

A little man in trousers, slightly jagged.

Deliver me from such another jury!

The Judgment-day will be a picnic to 't.

Their satire was more dreadful than their fury,

And worst of all was just a kind of brute

Disgust, and giving up, and sinking mute.

Survival of the fittest, adaptation,

And all their other evolution terms,

Seem to omit one small consideration,

To wit, that tumblebugs and angleworms

Have souls: there's soul in everything that squirms.

And souls are restless, plagued, impatient things,

All dream and unaccountable desire;

Crawling, but pestered with the thought of wings;

Spreading through every inch of earth's old mire

Mystical hanker after something higher.

Wishes are horses, as I understand.

I guess a wistful polyp that has strokes

Of feeling faint to gallivant on land

Will come to be a scandal to his folks;

Legs he will sprout, in spite of threats and jokes.

And at the core of every life that crawls

Or runs or flies or swims or vegetates—

Churning the mammoth's heart-blood, in the galls

Of shark and tiger planting gorgeous hates,

Lighting the love of eagles for their mates;

Yes, in the dim brain of the jellied fish

That is and is not living—moved and stirred

From the beginning a mysterious wish,

A vision, a command, a fatal Word:

The name of Man was uttered, and they heard.

Upward along the aeons of old war

They sought him: wing and shank-bone, claw and bill

Were fashioned and rejected; wide and far

They roamed the twilight jungles of their will;

But still they sought him, and desired him still.

Man they desired, but mind you, Perfect Man,

The radiant and the loving, yet to be!

I hardly wonder, when they came to scan

The upshot of their strenuosity,

They gazed with mixed emotions upon me.

Well, my advice to you is, Face the creatures,

Or spot them sideways with your weather eye,

Just to keep tab on their expansive features;

It isn't pleasant when you're stepping high

To catch a giraffe smiling on the sly.

If nature made you graceful, don't get gay

Back-to before the hippopotamus;

If meek and godly, find some place to play

Besides right where three mad hyenas fuss:

You may hear language that we don't discuss.

If you're a sweet thing in a flower-bed hat,

Or her best fellow with your tie tucked in,

Don't squander love's bright springtime girding at

An old chimpanzee with an Irish chin:

There may be hidden meaning in his grin.


Go Back