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There a wealth of poems about animals - and many of them are in the Poets' Corner collection - so
many that there is no easy way to generalize them. There are a considerable number of poems about birds alone, so they have their own subject index.
We look at many animals and see them as metaphors for ourselves -- for better or for worse. Someone like Robert Burns can look at a creature as small as a mouse, or even a louse, and come up with some of the most famous words in the English language. In fact many of these poems have famous lines - or at least lines that became simplified and remained part of the language. Thomas Gray's cat is a very good, though very sad example.
Common animals (dogs, cats, horses, birds, fish, snakes, mice) show up in many poems, though there are good descriptive poems about more exotic creatures, from mongooses to megalasaurs. We also have numerous poems about ants and spiders and grasshoppers. Blake's animals, particularly the Tyger are familiar to many; more fun to read perhaps are Belloc's Beasts. There are also several poems on how animals view us - Leigh Hunt does this well - and how we view ourselves for our poor treatment of animals - John Clare does this in cruel and relentless detail.
- The Tyger by William Blake
A classic and striking poem built almost entirely of rhetorical questions.
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
- The Chambered Nautilus by Oliver Wendell Holmes
Holmes builds an analogy between spiritual growth and the spiral shell of the Nautilus,
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
- A Night With a Wolf by Bayard Taylor
When the weather is the greater danger.
Over the roof in the pitch dark night,
And the winds in the woods a-roaring
On a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes by Thomas Gray
A sad poem - the feline version of Icarus, and an allegory for our reach exceeding our grasp - from this poem we get the paraphrase that "all that glitters is not gold"
- To a Mouse by Robert Burns
From which we get the paraphrase - "the best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray"
- A Narrow Fellow in the Grass by Emily Dickinson
A snake, of course.
- The Badger by John Clare
This is really a portrait - and a damning one - not of the badger, but of men.
- The Ant Explorer by Clarence James Dennis
An Incredible Journey (on a very small scale)
- Deer by John Drinkwater
A beautiful, mysterious, and alliterative portrait.
- The Andante of Snakes by Arthur Symons
Symons clearly did not like snakes. At all.
Scaled yellow, swampy black, plague-spotted white;
With blue and lidless eyes at watch they keep
A treachery of silence; infinite
- His Camel by Alqamah
Some view camels as odious, cantankerous beasts. Not Alquamah.
- To a Fish, and A Fish Answers by James Leigh Hunt
(Hey! Who are you calling ugly?)
- To A Louse by Robert Burns
While not as famous as the mouse poem, here Burns has, in some ways, the same sentiment as Hunt's fish,
O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
- The Owl and the Pussy-Cat by Edward Lear
This cat comes to a much happier end than Gray's. This one begs to be spoken aloud.
- Megalosaurus by Babette Deutsch
Deutsch suggests the dinosaurs are not really extinct. They passed their behaviors on to us.
- The Platypus by Oliver Herford
A metaphor for indecision.
- The Grasshopper by Anakreon
A very ancient ode to an insect.
- The Donkey by G. K. Chesterton
An unexpected perspective.
- Coyote by Bret Harte
A more balanced portrait than Symons snake; at least there's some sympathy.
- The Maldive Shark by Herman Melville
Another unsympathetic portrait - this time of the shark and its pilot fish.
- The Yak by Hilaire Belloc
Everyone's going to want one.
- The Dromedary by A.Y. Campbell
A lesson on dignity in captivity.
- The Town Rabbit in the Country by Camilla Doyle
Perceived paradise for a rabbit.
- The Eagle and the Mole by Elinor Wylie
Wylie's advice for those who need their solitude.
- Milk for the Cat by Harold Monro
A cat's obsession, as Munro sees it.
- Arachne by Rose Terry Cooke
She has measured out her life in . . . spider webs.
- The Lamb by William Blake
Another rhetorical piece, this time with an answer.
- Address to Certain Goldfishes by Hartley Coleridge
Are they as happy as they seem?
- The Microbe by Hilaire Belloc
Belloc's poem about a very, very small animal.*
- Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog by Oliver Goldsmith
Obviously it does not end well for the dog - but not for the reason you might think.
- The Mongoos by Oliver Herford
The Poet argues that this animal missed its calling - with disastrous results for everyone.
- To the Grasshopper and the Cricket by James Leigh Hunt
Catching your heart up at the feel of June,
Sole voice that's heard amidst the lazy noon,
* Yes, I know, if the microbe is single celled it may not be an Animal.