On a dirt road lies a dead beetle.
Three little pairs of legs carefully folded on his belly.
Instead of death’s chaos –neatness and order.
The horror of this sight is mitigated,
the range strictly local, from witchgrass to spearmint.
Sadness is not contagious.
The sky is blue.
For our peace of mind, their death seemingly shallower.
Animals do not pass away, but simply die,
losing – we wish to believe – less of awareness and the world,
leaving – it seems to us – a stage less tragic.
Their humble little souls do not haunt our dreams,
they keep their distance,
know their place.
So here lies the dead beetle on the road,
glistens unlamented when the sun hits.
A glance at him is as good as a thought;
he looks as though nothing important had befallen him.
What’s important is valid supposedly for us.
For just our life, for just our death,
a death that enjoys an extorted primacy.
Seen From Above, Wislawa Szymborska, 1921 –
I stumbled upon this poem the other day and found it quite touching for the modesty of its subject – not many poems are written about the lowly beetle – and because it reminded me of a short essay I wrote a year or two ago on a similar topic. My experience was not seeing a dead beetle but a beetle in the process of dying. (See Archives 2012, August 9)
“animals do not pass away, but simply die.” I like the irony Szymborska uses when she infers that the beetle’s death is so much less in importance than our own. Their death need not be draped in euphemism but baldly declared. The lowly beetle knows its place in the hierarchy of value. Its death is of little importance in the grand scheme of things. In contrast, how important we believe ourselves, how world-changing our own demise.
Yet when “seen from above” does not the same life which animates our hearts, also animate the beetles of the world, and the trees and rocks and birds? Isn’t the one life that connects us all, the one life that is All That Is? Perhaps this hierarchy of life in which we imagine ourselves as the evolutionary edge is, in fact, not a vertical structure but a horizontal configuration that moves from the center outward in all directions at once with no one form having primacy, all being equal and equally loved.
And, if by chance, we fulfill those dire prophecies of Armageddon who can say the world will miss our heavy footsteps and loud quarreling voices. Perhaps the meek will one day inherit the earth.