In June, amid the golden fields,I saw a groundhog lying dead.Dead lay he; my senses shook,And mind outshot our naked frailty.There lowly in the vigorous summerHis form began its senseless change,And made my senses waver dimSeeing nature ferocious in him.Inspecting close his maggots' mightAnd seething cauldron of his being,Half with loathing, half with a strange love,I poked him with an angry sstick.The fever arose, became a flameAnd Vigour circumscribed the skies,Immense energy in the sun,And through my frame a sunless trembling.My stick had done nor good nor harm.Then stood I silent in the dayWatching the object, as before;And kept my reverence for knowledgeTrying for control, to be still,To quell the passion of the blood;Until I had bent down on my kneesPraying for joy in the sight of decay.And so I left; and I returnedIn Autumn strict of eye, to see
The sap gone out of the groundhog,But the bony sodden hulk remained.But the year had lost its meaning,And in intellectual chainsI lost both love and loathing,Mured up in the wall of wisdom.Another summer took the fields againMassive and burning, full of life,But when I chanced upon the spotThere was only a little hair left,And bones bleaching in the sunlightBeautiful as architecture;I watched them like a geometer,And cut a walking stick from a birch.It has been three years, now,There is no sign of the groundhog.I stood there in the whirling summer,My hand capped a withered heart,And thought of China and of Greece,Of Alexander in his tent;Of Montaigne in his tower,Of Saint Theresa in her wild lament.--Richard Eberhart
This is probably Eberhart's most famous anthology piece -- except maybe for "The Fury of Aerial Bombardment" -- as well as a member of a curious subgenre: the mock-heroic meditation on a dead animal. In fact, I can think of only three examples: this one, Thomas Gray's "On the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes" (one of the most misquoted poems in English), and this last, which is one my favorite poems of all time.
The Death of a Toad
A toad the power mower caught,Chewed and clipped of a leg, with a hobbling hop has gotTo the garden verge, and sanctuaried himUnder the cineraria leaves, in the shadeOf the ashen heartshaped leaves, in a dim,Low, and a final glade.
The rare original heartsblood goes,Spends on the earthen hide, in the folds and wizenings, flowsIn the gutters of the banked and staring eyes. He liesAs still as if he would return to stone,And soundlessly attending, diesToward some deep monotone,
Toward misted and ebullient seasAnd cooling shores, toward lost Amphibia's emperies.Day dwindles, drowning, and at length is goneIn the wide and antique eyes, which still appearTo watch, across the castrate lawn,The haggard daylight steer.