Elegy for my Pet Monkey, Greenback- Dag Hammarskjöld-August 6th, 1961
Far from the chattering troop,
From the green gloom under the tree-tops
And the branches over the jungle trail
Where the eye of leopards
Gleamed in the night,
In the white-washed room
With the bannisters and the dangling rope,
He sat on the window-sill
Watching the snow fall
And the cars rush by
With their eyes on fire.
Nobody was watching
When, one day, he jumped
For the loop of the rope,
And his chest got caught in its coils
And he choked to death.
Nobody was watching –
And who had ever understood
His efforts to be happy,
His moments of faith in us,
His constant anxiety,
Longing for something
He could only vaguely remember?
Yet all of us had liked him,
And we all missed him
For a long time.
Translated from the Swedish by Leif Sjöberg & W. H. Auden
Anybody who might have followed this blog through the years might know that one of my go-into-the-burning-house-to save something precious would be Dag Hammarskjöld’s 1964 Markings which I purchased that year in a Buenos Aires bookstore called Pygmalion.
This poem is one of the last in the book. Hammarskjöld was the second Secretary General of the United Nations. His airplane mysteriously crashed in Africa in 1961. He was awarded a posthumous Nobel Peace Prize.
Of late that poem, which originally did not have a title (and how could you have known that it was about a pet monkey somehow living far from the jungle in a cold day in Sweden?) has been one of my favourites for years. It wonderfully explains displacement. I sometimes feel here in Vancouver that I am a penguin in the Arctic far from the Argentina of my youth.
A few days ago I was chatting with my 12-year-old granddaughter Lauren on a bench in the garden. Rosemary’s cat Casi-Casi was with us. I asked her why she would prefer to get a kitten (she has one called Aengus) and not like yours truly that with Rosemary we have had a long relationship with middle-aged cats from the SPCA. She told me that she liked to grow with the cats and that they were cute and that liked to play when kittens. I told her that in our case we liked the idea of having to mutually adapt (we to the cat, the cat to us) with an animal that in the case of Rosemary is a complete person. If she talked to me the way she baby-talks to Casi-Casi I would be the happiest man in the world. I further told her that the mystery as to why a cat (as nice a one as Casi-Casi is) would be unloaded for adoption was not only a mystery but we thought whence the cat came from and what kind of life he might have had.
Casi-Casi has adapted to us and we could not live without him. In our quest to find a smaller house to move to we are making sure that the house would have a sufficient garden for Casi-Casi to roam.
Lauren looked at Casi-Casi and said, “I wonder what he is thinking about?”
I do believe that Lauren is on the right track.
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.