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At Play in the Fields of Fliskets, Zant, and Fred

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 28, 2013

Jawsius charlottei (Illustration: Calene Luczo)

Jawseus charlottei (Illustration: Calene Luczo/http://www.luczoillustration.com/)

I happened to come across two lovely poems this morning about the challenge of naming the animals.  The first is by John Hollander.*

                                 Adam’s Task

And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field … GEN. 2:20

Thou, paw-paw-paw; thou, glurd; thou, spotted
Glurd; thou, whitestap, lurching through
The high-grown brush; thou, pliant-footed,
Implex; thou, awagabu.

Every burrower, each flier
Came for the name he had to give:
Gay, first work, ever to be prior,
Not yet sunk to primitive.

Thou, verdle; thou, McFleery’s pomma;
Thou; thou; thou—three types of grawl;
Thou, flisket; thou, kabasch; thou, comma-
Eared mashawk; thou, all; thou, all.

Were, in a fire of becoming,
Laboring to be burned away,
Then work, half-measuring, half-humming,
Would be as serious as play.

Thou, pambler; thou, rivarn; thou, greater
Wherret, and thou, lesser one;
Thou, sproal; thou, zant; thou, lily-eater.
Naming’s over. Day is done.

The second poem comes from Anthony Hecht, in roughly the same spirit:

                      Naming the Animals

Having commanded Adam to bestow
Names upon all the creatures, God withdrew
To empyrean palaces of blue
That warm and windless morning long ago,
And seemed to take no notice of the vexed
Look on the young man’s face as he took thought
Of all the miracles the Lord had wrought,
Now to be labelled, dubbed, yclept, indexed.

Before an addled mind and puddled brow,
The feathered nation and the finny prey
Passed by; there went biped and quadruped.
Adam looked forth with bottomless dismay
Into the tragic eyes of his first cow,
And shyly ventured, “Thou shalt be called ‘Fred.'”

I am sending these poems out to all the discouraged taxonomists out there, contemplating how to name 100 new ants, or ground beetles, or flies.  Bring on those pommas and pamblers!

* Personal note: I once signed up for Hollander’s poetry class as an undergraduate, then, fool that I was, forgot to attend.  I discovered this lapse, to my horror, two weeks before semester’s end.  Hollander, bless him, gave me a “high pass” anyway.  Academic standards were gentler then.

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