Invertebrate Poetry

Photo One by © Nevit Dilmen / CC BY-SA (
Pond-skater (Photo One)

Dear Readers, when I woke up at 5 a.m., as I sometimes do, I found myself thinking about poetry, and about how often invertebrates are used to stand in for all kinds of human attributes and experiences. I adore W.B Yeats, as much for the way that the lyricism of his work begs to be read out loud as anything – think of ‘An Irish Airman Foresees His Death‘ or the most misquoted poem of the Twentieth Century, ‘The Second Coming‘. But you might not be quite so familiar with this, ‘Long-Legged Fly’. Three perfect visual images, linked by the idea of the fly. Actually, a pond skater is not a fly, but I forgive him.

Long-Legged Fly

That civilisation may not sink,
Its great battle lost,
Quiet the dog, tether the pony
To a distant post;
Our master Caesar is in the tent
Where the maps are spread,
His eyes fixed upon nothing,
A hand under his head.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

That the topless towers be burnt
And men recall that face,
Move most gently if move you must
In this lonely place.
She thinks, part woman, three parts a child,
That nobody looks; her feet
Practise a tinker shuffle
Picked up on a street.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

That girls at puberty may find
The first Adam in their thought,
Shut the door of the Pope’s chapel,
Keep those children out.
There on that scaffolding reclines
Michael Angelo.
With no more sound than the mice make
His hand moves to and fro.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

And how about this, from Fleur Adcock, who lives in East Finchley. I love the way that this poem starts from a five year-old and a snail, and opens out into the question of how mothers are seen, what kindness is, and how we try to protect our children from the realities that they will soon encounter.

Kindness to Snails

For a Five-Year-Old
Fleur Adcock

A snail is climbing up the window-sill
into your room, after a night of rain.
You call me in to see, and I explain
that it would be unkind to leave it there:
it might crawl to the floor; we must take care
that no one squashes it.  You understand,
and carry it outside, with careful hand,
to eat a daffodil.

I see, then, that a kind of faith prevails:
your gentleness is moulded still by words
from me, who drowned your kittens, who betrayed
your closest relatives, and who purveyed
the harshest kind of truth to many another.
But that is how things are: I am your mother,
and we are kind to snails.

Photo Two by Retiredplayboy / CC BY-SA (
Philippine orange tarantula (Orphnaecus philippinus) (Photo Two)

And finally, how about the tarantula? I rather love this poem by Thomas Lux, especially the last few stanzas.

Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy 


For some semitropical reason   
when the rains fall   
relentlessly they fall

into swimming pools, these otherwise   
bright and scary
arachnids. They can swim
a little, but not for long

and they can’t climb the ladder out.
They usually drown—but   
if you want their favor,
if you believe there is justice,   
a reward for not loving

the death of ugly
and even dangerous (the eel, hog snake,   
rats) creatures, if

you believe these things, then   
you would leave a lifebuoy
or two in your swimming pool at night.

And in the morning   
you would haul ashore
the huddled, hairy survivors

and escort them
back to the bush, and know,
be assured that at least these saved,   
as individuals, would not turn up

again someday
in your hat, drawer,
or the tangled underworld

of your socks, and that even—
when your belief in justice
merges with your belief in dreams—
they may tell the others

in a sign language   
four times as subtle
and complicated as man’s

that you are good,   
that you love them,
that you would save them again.

So, over to you Readers. Do you have a favourite poem that is loosely invertebrate-themed? I’m sure there must be lots of bee and butterfly and moth poems out there. I’d love to read them!

Photo Credits

Photo One by © Nevit Dilmen / CC BY-SA (

Photo Two by Retiredplayboy / CC BY-SA (

12 thoughts on “Invertebrate Poetry

  1. FEARN

    Little worm – wiggle wiggle,
    You make me and my sister giggle.
    You live in mud,
    You live in wet,
    Yet never ever see a vet.
    You must be very healthy worm,
    Wiggle Wiggle Wiggle Squirm.

    Worm by Spike Milligan (Who else?)

    1. Bug Woman

      Love Spike Milligan. Did you read ‘Hitler – My Part in his Downfall?’ Gives a real insight into the both the comedy and the darkness of the man….

  2. sllgatsby

    Love for Other Things
    by Tom Hennen

    It’s easy to love a deer
    But try to care about bugs and scrawny trees
    Love the puddle of lukewarm water
    From last week’s rain.
    Leave the mountains alone for now.
    Also the clear lakes surrounded by pines.
    People are lined up to admire them.
    Get close to the things that slide away in the dark.
    Be grateful even for the boredom
    That sometimes seems to involve the whole world.
    Think of the frost
    That will crack our bones eventually.

  3. sllgatsby

    by Rudy Francisco

    She asks me to kill the spider.
    Instead, I get the most
    peaceful weapons I can find.

    I take a cup and a napkin.
    I catch the spider, put it outside
    and allow it to walk away.

    If I am ever caught in the wrong place
    at the wrong time, just being alive
    and not bothering anyone,

    I hope I am greeted
    with the same kind
    of mercy.”

    –from Helium

  4. sllgatsby

    Field Guide
    by Tony Hoagland

    Once, in the cool blue middle of a lake,
    up to my neck in that most precious dement of all,
    I found a pale-gray, curled-upwards pigeon feather
    floating on the tension of the water
    at the very instant when a dragonfly,
    like a blue-green iridescent bobby pin,
    hovered over it, then lit, and rested.
    That’s all.
    I mention this in the same way
    that I fold the corner of a page
    in certain library books,
    so that the next reader will know
    where to look for the good parts.

    –from Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty, 2010

  5. sllgatsby

    Not very much mention of invertebrates; just bees and something that isn’t really flies, but I love the headlong rush of this poem.

    The Old Woman Gets Drunk With the Moon
    by Hailey Leithauser

    The moon is rising everywhere;
    The moon’s my favorite easy chair,
    My tin pot-top, my green plum tree,
    My brassy buttoned cavalry
    Tap-dancing up a crystal stair.

    O watch them pitch and take the air!
    Like shoo fly pies and signal flares,
    Like clotted cream and bumblebees,
    The moons are rising.

    How hits-the-spot, how debonair,
    What swooned balloons of savoir faire,
    What purr of rain-blurred bright marquees
    That linger late, that wait for me,
    Who’ll someday rest my cold bones there
    In moons that rise up everywhere.

    –from Swoop.

  6. Andrea Stephenson

    Some gorgeous poems, both in your post and the comments! A very tenuous connection but there is mention of invertebrates in my favourite poem, Anne Sexton’s ‘Her Kind’. The relevant verse is:
    I have found the warm caves in the woods,
    filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
    closets, silks, innumerable goods;
    fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
    whining, rearranging the disaligned.
    A woman like that is misunderstood.
    I have been her kind.


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