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10 of the Best Poems about Animals

What are the greatest classic animal poems?

From cats to mice, dogs to horses, fish to pigs, poets have written touchingly, powerfully, and enchantingly about animals. In this post we’ve chosen ten of our favourite poems about animals of all kinds. What would feature on your list of the best animal poems?

Robert Henryson, ‘The Paddock and the Mouse’. We get two animals for the price of one in this medieval poem: a frog and a mouse (‘paddock’ is an old word for a frog). Three centuries before Robert Burns would write his more famous poem about a mouse, the fifteenth-century poet Robert Henryson wrote this, a verse translation of one of Aesop’s fables. It’s written in Middle Scots – the medieval Scots dialect – and tells of a mouse that wishes to cross a stream. A paddock/frog offers to help, with disastrous results. The version we’ve linked to above is a modernised translation of Henryson’s poem.

Anna Seward, ‘An Old Cat’s Dying Soliloquy‘. This poem first appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1792, and manages to convey the cat’s voice in a manner that is ironic and amusing but also touching and poignant, since the cat realises that she will miss her master when she has died. Read the rest of this entry

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A Short Analysis of Emily Dickinson’s ‘The Brain is wider than the Sky’

A close reading of a classic Dickinson poem

‘The brain is wider than the sky’: the mind and all that it can take in – and imagine – is far greater than even the vast sky above us. This is the starting point of one of Emily Dickinson’s great meditations on the power of human imagination and comprehension. Before we attempt an analysis, though, here’s a reminder of the poem.

The Brain — is wider than the Sky —
For — put them side by side —
The one the other will contain
With ease — and You — beside —

The Brain is deeper than the sea —
For — hold them — Blue to Blue —
The one the other will absorb —
As Sponges — Buckets — do — Read the rest of this entry

The Vinland Sagas: The Men Who Discovered America Before Columbus

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle heads off to medieval America and the world of the sagas

Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, when he landed on mainland North America, thus sparking the colonisation of the continent by the Europeans.

This is the mainstream conception, and it’s entirely wrong. Columbus never landed on the mainland of the continent we now call North America. Even if he had, he wouldn’t have been the first European to do so. European settlement in North America had first occurred almost half a millennium before Columbus was even born. In around the year 1000, a group of Icelandic explorers made a series of journeys along the northern rim of the Atlantic, and attempted to found a colony somewhere along the Atlantic seaboard of the continent of North America, probably somewhere around what is now Newfoundland and the Gulf of St Lawrence. Read the rest of this entry