the common shag, plus bears with buns, and hedgehogs

by nike, November 27, 2014

These bears are buns. Or, these buns are bears. Either way, they’re cute.

So, a relatively recent copy of the LRB showed up in the post this week. For various reasons, my subscription has waxed and waned this year. Sometimes nothing arrives for months, and then suddenly a flood of copies – a flurry – in one glorious avalanche.

Anyway, I’ve read about two paragraphs of it so far, but one of the best bits was being reminded of this grand, perfect, and perfectly unlikely poem by Christopher Isherwood, which some wag quoted in their letter to the editor:

The common cormorant (or shag)
Lays eggs inside a paper bag,
The reason you will see no doubt,
Is to keep the lightning out.

But what these unobservant birds
Have failed to notice is that herds
Of wandering bears may come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.

I cannot decide which image is the more endearing. The cormorants foolishly laying eggs in paper bags, or the bun-eating, crumb-collecting bears.

The bears have it!

HedgehogRenewing my acquaintance with this lovely nonsense poem about cormorants and bears reminded me that I’d been meaning to dig out (as I keep referring to it in conversations about hedgehogs, and you know how often they occur!) ‘that poem of Larkin’s with the hedgehog and the mower’. Not nonsensical at all, but perfect unto itself. A poem as self-contained and smug (in a good way) as an egg. Or, indeed, as a hedgehog.

The Mower

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.


  • oh the poor little guy!

      • Replay Cancel Replay
      • November 27, 2014

      I know, right! I remember reading this poem as a little girl, in some kind of anthology of animal poems, and going right off Larkin forever. I think I was about 10.

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