The Squirrel in Poetry
October is Squirrel Awareness Month. And what you might ask have squirrels to do with poetry? Let me make you aware.
- First, it has been hypothesized by some largely ignored trailing amateur rodent research naturalists with significant niche followings among the unscientifically yet poetically minded, that what sometimes sounds to the human ear like agitated chattering among squirrels is actually a high level and highly pitched arboreal poetry slam session. Although initially skeptical about this purported vocalization, I did by chance discover this document scrap in the leaf mold under my birdfeed recently. Although it lists the author as “Sammy the Squirrel,” I have no way of knowing if this is the author’s name or a nom de plume, or should I say, nom de tail, or even if the author is a bona fide member of Order Rodentia, Family Sciuridae known to inhabit Harris County (Sciurus carolinensis , Glaucomys volans , Sciurus niger , or Spermophilus tridecemlineatus (Gray , Flying, Fox, or Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, respectively)). Nevertheless, I present this for the advancement and diffusion of knowledge, to borrow a phrase.
“Birdfeeders” / by Sammy the Squirrel
With no apologies to that Kilmer guy
I think that I shall never spy
A birdfeeder as smart as I
When my hungry jaws are prest
Amid its luscious seedy best.
Anyone peepin’ out the window today
Isn’t fast enough to scare me away.
For a nest of robins I don’t care
I’m the smartest scrounger here.
Let ‘um squawk and let ‘um rant
Try to get rid of me – they can’t.
Maybe only God can make a tree,
But birdfeeders were made for me!
- Second, moving from the subjective squirrel experience to the objective portrayal of squirrels in human poetry and visual arts, I recommend the many fine examples, often found in poetic bestiaries, for example: Animal poems / Valerie Worth; pictures by Steve Jenkins and Collected Poems for Children / Ted Hughes; pictures by Raymond Briggs. Squirrel poems from both are brought together nicely online by their publisher Farrar Straus Giroux.
Nuts to You! / Lois Ehlert
Gives a young child’s response to an urban squirrel break-in to the child’s apartment, and also supplies prose text to teach about squirrels and gardening.
An interesting variation on squirrel poetry is Last Song: A Poem / by James Guthrie; illustrated by Eric Rohmann
The squirrels, which do not appear in the poem, are used to visually turn Guthrie’s short serenade to the sun, moon, and stars into a picture book with a colorful and delight filled nest of romping tree squirrels by Rohmann, who has a talent for turning short texts into stories,.
- Third, poems for more mature readers often use the squirrel as an image. As a poetic stand-in for an elusive lover in “Love in the Valley ” by George Meredith, or more frequently as a child’s first encounter with death as in “Himalayan Balsam ” by Anne Stevenson, or most powerfully in the Civil War poem, “After the Wilderness: May 3, 1863 ” by Andrew Hudgins.
Interestingly, squirrels, alive and dead also appear in this pair of graveside meditations, “At Thomas Merton’s Grave ” by Spencer Reece and “Faith ” by Judy Loest.
On a much lighter note, Naomi Shihab Nye , in her poem “Yellow Glove ," gives important parental advise for placing squirrels in their final resting place, "Don’t kiss the squirrel before you bury him."