Friday, 14 of June of 2024

Joanna Macy – Bestiary


A bestiary, or Bestiarum vocabulum is a compendium of beasts. Originating in the Ancient world, bestiaries were made popular in the Middle Ages in illustrated volumes that described various animals, birds and even rocks.

The natural history and illustration of each beast was usually accompanied by a moral lesson. This reflected the belief that the world itself was the Word of God, and that every living thing had its own special meaning.

For example, the pelican, which was believed to tear open its breast to bring its young to life with its own blood, was a living representation of Jesus. The bestiary, then, is also a reference to the symbolic language of animals in Western Christian art and literature.


Joanna Macy  “…graduated from Wellesley College in 1950 and received her Phd in Religious Studies in 1978 from Syracuse UniversitySyracuse. She studied there with Huston Smith, the influential author of The World’s Religions (previously entitled The Religions of Man).

She is an international spokesperson for peace, justice, and environmentalism, most renowned for her book Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World and the Great Turning initiative, which deals with the transformation from, as she terms it, an industrial growth society to what she considers to be a more sustainable civilization.

She has created a theoretical framework for personal and social change, and a workshop methodology for its application. Her work addresses psychological and spiritual issues, Buddhist thought, and contemporary spent much time.” from Wiki 

The earth obey’d and straight
Opening her fertile womb teem’d at a birth
Innumerous living creatures, perfect forms,
Limb’d and full-grown…
John Milton, Paradise Lost, VII, 453


short-tailed albatross
whooping crane
gray wolf
peregrine falcon
hawksbill turtle

In Geneva, the international tally of endangered species, kept up to date
in looseleaf volumes, is becoming too heavy to lift. Where do we now
record the passing of life? What funerals or farewells are appropriate?

reed warbler
swallow-tail butterfly
Manx shearwater
Indian python
howler monkey
sperm whale
blue whale

Dive me deep, brother whale, in this time we have left. Deep in our mother
ocean where once I swam, gilled and finned. The salt from those early seas
still runs in my tears. Tears are too meager now. Give me a song…a song
for a sadness too vast for my heart, for a rage too wild for my throat.

grizzly bear
brown bear
Bactrian camel
Nile crocodile
American alligator

Ooze me, alligator, in the mud whence I came. Belly me slow in the rich
primordial soup, cradle of our molecules. Let me wallow again, before we
drain your swamp, before we pave it over and blast it to ash.

gray bat
marsh mouse
blue pike
red kangaroo
Aleutian goose
Audouin’s seagull

Quick, lift off. Sweep me high over the coast and out, farther out. Don’t
land here. Oil spills coat the beach, rocks, sea. I cannot even spread my
wings glued with tar. Fly me from what we have done, fly me far.

golden parakeet
African ostrich
Florida panther
Galapagos penguin
Imperial pheasant
Utah prairie dog

Hide me in a hedgerow, badger. Can’t you find one? Dig me a tunnel through
leaf mold and roots, under the trees that once defined our fields. My heart
is bulldozed and plowed over. Burrow me a labyrinth deeper than longing.

thick-billed parrot
zone-tailed pigeon
desert bandicoot
Southern bald eagle
California condor
lorus blue butterfly

Crawl me out of here, caterpillar. Spin me a cocoon. Wind me to sleep in a
shroud of silk, where in patience my bones will dissolve. I’ll wait as long
as all creation if only it will come again–and I take wing.

Atlantic Ridley turtle
pearly mussel
helmeted hornbill
sea otter
humpback whale
monk seal
harp seal

Swim me out beyond the ice floes, mama. Where are you? Boots squeeze my
ribs, clubs drum my fur, the white world goes black with the taste of my blood.

sand gazelle
swamp deer
musk deer
Asian elephant
African elephant

Sway me slowly through the jungle. There still must be jungle somewhere, my
heart drips with green secrets. Hose me down by the waterhole, there is
buckshot in my hide. Tell me old stories while you can remember.

fan-tailed flycatcher
flapshell tortoise
crested ibis
hook-billed kite
frigate bird

In the time when his world, like ours, was ending, Noah had a list of the
animals, too. We picture him standing by the gangplank, calling their
names, checking them off on his scroll. Now we are also checking them off.

ivory-billed woodpecker
brown pelican
Florida manatee
Canada goose

We reenact Noah’s ancient drama, but in reverse, like a film running
backwards, the animals exiting.


Your tracks are grown fainter. Wait. Wait. This is a hard time. Don’t leave
us alone in a world we have wrecked.

Joanna Macy

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