“The goal of life is to live in agreement with nature.”

Zeno, the founder of Stoicism and a student of Socrates, was the first to make that statement 2,300 years ago. Stoics looked to Nature as their guide to life, believing that Nature teaches us everything we need to know about how to live well in this world – how to live a noble and virtuous life.

What would the Stoics Heraclitus, Seneca and Zeno say about man’s destruction of nature today, especially the frontal assault on the African elephant, which is on its way to being killed to extinction for ivory and ‘sport?’

What would the stoics say about Bob Parsons, the GoDaddy CEO who killed an elephant and handed out GoDaddy caps to villagers who butchered the elephant to the blaring of Heavy Metal music? 

Or the four rich Americans who recently sued (unsuccessfully) the Justice Department to bring back the corpses of four endangered Zambian elephants they had paid a fortune to kill just for the fun of it? 

Or Barnum & Bailey’s circus of horrors, which rips baby elephants away from their mothers to ‘train’ them to stand on their heads using electric shock, bull-hooks, and rope torture, breaking their spirits and condemning them, animals with complex social structures that often roam hundreds of miles a day, to life in a box-car traveling across our country for our amusement? 

It is hard to articulate the pain and frustration of reporting and trying to stop mankind’s war on nature and these magnificent animals in particular. To do so, we turn to poetry. 

W.S. Merwin, our current Poet Laureate.

W.S. Merwin, our current poet laureate and twice Pulitzer-winner, writes about one particular (real) elephant in his poem, “The Chain To Her Leg.” In 1903, on Coney Island, crowds gathered at Luna Park to witness the electrocution of Topsy, a circus elephant who had finally had enough and killed the trainer who tormented her with lit cigarettes, among other abuses. Electrocuting an elephant was a novel experiment and the killing turned into a festive event and was filmed. If you have seen the historical footage you will never forget it. It is a perfect metaphor for man’s failed understanding of and relationship with the natural world.

W.S. Merwin has generously allowed the republication of his haunting poem here on Global Animal. We are honored.

It gives voice to our anger and sadness, and also fuels our commitment to wake people up to what is happening. We thank him deeply for the privilege and for his ongoing commitment to the environment. – Arthur Jeon

The Chain To Her Leg

If we forget Topsy

Topsy remembers

when we forget her mother

gunned down in the forest

and forget who killed her

and to whom they sold

the tusks the feet the good parts

and how they died and where

and what became of their children

and what happened to the forest

Topsy remembers

 

when we forget how

the wires were fastened on her

for the experiment

the first time

and how she smoldered and

shuddered there

with them all watching

but did not die

when we forget

the lit cigarette

the last laugh gave her

lit end first

as though it were a peanut

the joke for which she

killed him

we will not see home again

 

when we forget the circus

the tickets to see her die

in the name of progress

and Edison and the electric chair

the mushroom cloud will go up

over the desert

where the West was won

the Enola Gay will take off

after the chaplain’s blessing

the smoke from the Black Mesa’s

power plants will be

visible from the moon

the forests will be gone

the extinctions will accelerate

the polar bears will float

farther and farther away

and off the edge of the world

that Topsy remembers.

         – By W.S. Merwin, First Published in The New Yorker magazine

 

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