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Friday 13 January 2012

Ode to Basic Instinct

I watched them at their feeders for a while,
saw how the blackbird, magpies, rooks
and pigeons were excluding smaller
and defenseless birds - a wren, some tits,
a chaffinch and a sparrow from the feast.
Pitiless, they were, relentless,
driving them away. But then,
when someone wandered by, quite close to them,
it was the larger birds took fright and left
the field to those they'd dispossessed -
who seemed to have no fear of man,
the one, perhaps, they should have feared the most.

I saw this little drama played
by those unconscious actors on the lawn
as something of a metaphor of us.
What is it that our richest nations fear
and fear to such extent that they must take
whatever of the world's resources they can claim
by fair means or by foul
regardless of the paupers who must starve?

Is there, deep down, a bully in us all?
Would small birds bully smaller if they could?
Would they become remorseless in oppressing
their even weaker brethren with no weight?
What drives we civilised to such extremes?
Not greed, I think - though some will disagree -
not even naked power or lust for power,
to me the answer must be clearly fear.

But fear of what? That our good fortunes may be lost?
The wheat, the iron, the oil? Atomic power?
All that we have branded as our own...
these things are finite in the main. But yet
to me it seems the loss we fear the most
is none of these, but that of self:
the silent threat to that, our ways of life,
the pictures that we paint of who we are.
Please go to dVerse Poets for a fascinating exposition of the form and content of an ode - and the prompt for this attempt.


Rachel Green said...

I love 'list' poems and this is exceptional.

Brendan said...

I think you nailed the dynamic of human evil, greed, envy, waste, etc., at the biological core of the thoughtless striving to dominate, so that one's own seed and kin would flourish. Add great inventiveness to that cruelty and you get credit default swaps and Super Pacs and drone aircraft, capable of keeping the greenbacks flowing into the swollen gated communities of privilege while the rest of the world shrivels and contacts, oceans empty, corporate farms shipping out lifeless, gene-altered food, big birds owning the sky. fine work - Brendan

haricot said...

Fear, it was given to human when Adam and Eve heard and obeyed a cerpent. What should we do overcome it. Maybe it is our real work given by God.

Rohit_blogger at http://floating-expressions.blogspot.in/ said...

lovely comparison of birds and nations!!I always cheer for the underdog to win.

Anonymous said...

Hi David, I don't think it's evil so much as a lack of sufficient altruism that seems to me to be scary. (You describe the situation and fear so well.) Even when there's space and sufficiency, a lack of altruism causes that kind of bullying--when the space and sufficiency runs lower--
And a very interesting point re the loss of self-image (as well as self.) Of course, we view ourselves as a bit more civilized. (Ha.) K.

Eileen T O'Neill ..... said...


I loved this, especially as I love my garden visitors as well!!!

The bravery of the small, against 'the high and mighty,' seems to pervade all areas of life these days.


Claudia said...

wow...what an uncommon topic for a ode..but i like it a lot ...think we all have those basic instincts but we have learned to deal with them..and the reasons can be quite different..

Brian Miller said...

very cool dave...def like this one much...and here i thought you were ref the sharon stone movie at first but...smiles...there are certainly base insticts we have to rein in or...

Laurie Kolp said...

Dave- A masterpiece... I especially like:

But yet
to me it seems the loss we fear the most
is none of these, but that of self:
the silent threat to that, our ways of life,
the pictures that we paint of who we are.

Margo Kelly said...

Nicely done!

Rachna Chhabria said...

I found this poem completely awesome.

Beachanny said...

Another poem doing double duty, turning on itself as the subject of the poem does. How neatly you achieve this - staying in Ode form, celebrating both the nature and the destructiveness of man. Quite a feat and so well done!

Glenn Buttkus said...

Human nature, "basic instinct", those
imps of genetic past that stoyaway
on our lives everywhere we look,
with every breath, breeding nationalism,
patriotism, empire building, war
and poetry. Why can't we reach out
to the universe and simply say,
"I am an earthite, of this earth."
We just don't seem to be built
that way.

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Yes, Dave you have perfectly answered yourself to your own question and I totally agree. Our self is what we are afraid of losing most of all. It is what Carlos Castaneda's myhtic guru defined as "our underpinnings".

A great reflection Dave, from birds to men, really appropriate.

BragonDorn said...

I paint myself as a mid-evil warrior that is fighting to save the princess! I wish my paintings could come top life.

Maude Lynn said...

Excellent. I adore those closing lines.

phillip woodruff (jalopy dreams) said...

it's the circle that has always been, and continues to continue, sorta speak. the observation is plain enough, these patterns are everywhere in nature, including us. you would think that with our cognitive abnomallies, our awareness and technology, we could override these instincts, and perhaps someday we will. there is no telling what evolution as in store for us. very well written

Windsmoke. said...

The higher up on the food chain you are the more greedy you become :-).

Rose said...

Ah, the basic instinct of self preservation! It is deeply rooted in every living being, every single cell organism. the smallest and weakest quickly learn to become opportunists in order to survive. Brilliantly portrayed you are indeed a master of your craft.

Anonymous said...

how we treat birds and animals does paint who we really are. every year some sparrow built nests in a nook in my patio, and there are little babies, and i let them...they need to survive too

Dave King said...

Thank you for this - I tend to find lists hard to manage, so your comment is particularly welcome.

Yes, I agree, that's the extreme, but at the back of it I think a primal fear on behalf of the self. Interesting comment. Thanks for it.


Me too!

Yes, I think so, but I think it's the fear that's behind the lack of altruism. It's that eternal: What if?

Couldn't agree with you more. Thanks for this.

Yes, I'm sure that's so. I guess that's what civilisation is: learning to deal with them.

I was tempted by Sharon Stone... but then, aren't we all at some point? Thanks.

Thanks Laurie. Have to admit that I was pleased with that last section - I do like my poems to snap shut if poss!

Hi Margo, welcome to you. Many thanks for the comment.

I hadn't expected anything quite that good, so very many thanks!

Welcome to the blog and much grateful thanks for such a generous comment.

Hi Glenn and very welcome. I agree. The one aspect of our nature that we would like to change is one that is common to us all. Where to start? seems to be the major problem.

"Our underpinning..." I like that very much. Thanks for the feedback.

Now that would be something worth seeing! Just keep painting, you never know...

Mama Zen
Thanks for this. Good to have such confirmation.

Hi. Good to have your company. Thank you for your response. I agree totally. Man seems to be on the cusp of being able to influence his own further evolution. It's a hogh risk strategy, I would have thought, but maybe it offers us our best chance.

True to an extent - but my birds were not that high...

You are absolutely right. That which has guaranteed survival in the past, is now its greatest threat perhaps.

Indeed. In a school I taught in were some "difficult" lads, always in trouble for vio;ent or destructive acts. Some house matins built a nest and laid eggs on the window cill of the shower room, which was in a small courtyard. They organised a rota of "vigilantes" to keep guard at play and other times when youngsters would be around until the babes had fledged.

Ygraine said...

I, too, am small - in stature, talent and the order of things, so perhaps there is hope for me yet?

I only hope that I never become the bully should I someday find my place of power....

ds said...

Oh, you have nailed this one! "is there, deep down, a bully in us all?" Perhaps, though the best have overcome it. And not loss of self, exactly but of "the pictures we paint of ourselves." So beautifully put.
Thank you for this.

Mary said...

Missed this one. I enjoyed the bird story. And I find myself saying...good for the small ones!

What motivates humans? Fear of being overtaken by a bully and ending up with 'nothing', I think. Because of this fear, even civilized countries become a form of bully. But I guess I would rather have a 'civilized bully' or several of them in charge rather than letting bullies such as the one in North Korea or a country such as Iran have its way.