Skip to main content

The Wolf Mother speaks


What a complicated relationship we have with our fellow creatures!

When I said that, I wasn't actually thinking of our exploitation of them – important and sobering as that is – so much as how we relate to them, what we ascribe to them, what similarities we notice, or imagine, and what we as humans think we gain and learn from them.

It's an ancient story of course – not just to be saved by an animal, but nurtured, even suckled. Why wolves should be so often chosen for this role is curious, but two thousand years after this particular telling of the story, the story of protective parental wolves continues to be told, as in the Jungle Book.

Like other versions, my poem presents a speaking wolf. Having an animal thinking and talking opens the teller to the (usually critical) accusation of anthropomorphism.

But if anthropomorphism is about seeing animals as more like us, or us as more like animals; then the attribution of human characteristics to animals, and vice versa, leads to an increased understanding of both them and us. It must help create respect, and perhaps a degree of humility.

I hope I've avoided the trap of sentimentality which can lurk in books about speaking animals for children – the classic area for anthropomorphism – though the terrifying General Woundwort, Jeremy Fisher's scary experience and what Samuel Whiskers and Anna Maria did to Tom all prove that the opposite is often the case.

Listen then to the Wolf Mother, observant, competent and caring – characteristics both humans and animals share, which we could do with more of. I imagine her aware of what she doesn't know – that's definitely wisdom – when, yes of course, I'm anthropomorphising...

The Wolf Mother Speaks


I went to drink. There I found them –

such strange cubs – hairless things

no fur, no tails, no claws – with hands

as if they might be men.

I brought them back and now they suck.


I am accustomed – so, come close

drink deep, take what you need

of milk and warmth of wolf

of will of wolf, so you will grow –

for this is what I give to you –

pink twins with blunted teeth

through soft warm milk –

the taste for blood.


I the wolf mother do not know

how you will live and die

but time will tell, my suckling cubs

how you were saved

by a nameless lupine mother. 

On re-reading the above, I don't want to blame the wolf, red as she may be in tooth and claw, for making the twins blood thirsty. Wolves are carnivores, as we often are, and we nurture in our own image. But I don't think they kill each other, as Romulus did Remus, and we continue to do.

And I must add how interesting it is that we all, most of us anyway, continue to drink the milk of animals...


Popular posts from this blog

We were all together there in a foretime

    I find myself attracted to certain words, and here’s one.  Not a word often heard in modern speech, but perfectly proper and well-used since at least the sixteenth century. I came across it in Seamus Heaney’s Section 3 of Keeping Going in his phrase – We were all together there in a foretime. I imagined hearing in my mind’s ear his attractive rich voice rolling it out.   Foretime. Not just, or simply, the past, but a   foretime . (Interesting, that 'a'.  Not 'the', but 'a'). Fore , from before, so it is of course the past, but with a slightly different twist – an added dimension arising from the other words which use fore, as in forecast, foretell or even forehead, when it somehow also looks ahead, to the future… what lies before us? Foretime, Aftertime… be all that as it may, we’ve been here before, it affected us all then, it’s doing the same now and it’s threatening to overwhelm us in the future.   We were all together there in a for

The Three Hares

  The Three Hares We continue on our way running, running, running around held together tip to tip so I can hear what she can hear as well as her. And the other follows me in front of her – we are joined up by our ears so we follow, lead and follow running, running, running around we continue on our way. Running, running, running around – no cause for worry – what's to come has already been. The future's past – watch us here – we're going nowhere – the last is first and first is last. Our present moment sees us still although we seem to race – running, running, running around we continue. On our way running, running, running around hearing your persistent questions – why do you keep on asking? We cannot tell you any more. May you share your senses and find soft silence at your centre which is so close, while you go on running, running, running around. The turning of the year, with the various thoughts about the past and the future that c

The Signpost

Here’s a signpost – originally distinctive, being unique and handmade, and now even more so, with the evidence of ageing.   … numbers, distances, which way? While all signposts are interesting in their duty to inform, their presentation of choices and their simple declarative presence, I find this one special. It’s not just that it has much to say in terms of where you actually are, in which direction you might choose to go, how far your destination is (down to quarter mile accuracy) and even if your chosen method of transport is suitable. It’s also special in the simple elegance of its design, with the arms’ supports and the bevelled edges of the main post rising to that unexpected point. But the specialness goes further.  My friend James Ravilious took me there just at this time of year, over twenty years ago.  It was then upright and brilliant white, with crisp black letters. He certainly thought it was special, photographing it lovingly, in May 1988 ( Chawleigh Week Cross –