The Bear on the Delhi Road by Earle Birney

The Bear on the Delhi Road by Earle Birney
Fall by Fury c) 1977
Unreal tall as a myth
by the road the Himalayan bear
is beating the brilliant air

with his crooked arms
About him two men bare
spindly as locusts leap
One pulls on a ring
in the great soft nose His mate
flicks flicks with a stick
up at the rolling eyes
They have not led him here
down from the fabulous hills
to this bald alien plain
and the clamorous world to kill
but simply to teach him to dance
They are peaceful both these spare
men of Kashmir and the bear
alive is their living too
If far on the Delhi way
around him galvanic they dance
it is merely to wear wear
from his shaggy body the tranced
wish forever to stay
only an ambling bear
four-footed in berries
It is no more joyous for them
in this hot dust to prance
out of reach of the praying claws
sharpened to paw for ants
in the shadows of deodars
It is not easy to free
myth from reality
or rear this fellow up
to lurch lurch with them
in the tranced dancing of men

Earle Birney's “Bear on the Delhi Road”1 has long been a favourite poem of mine. It has also been a source of some anxiety and frustration, because I have never been able to understand it completely. I know it as a series of words; I know it as a structure of images and statement; I carry it in my head and use it to relate to that world out there that surrounds this consciousness in here that I call me. The poem says something to me that is very profound and very important, but I have always failed to pin it down and explain exactly what that something is. At least that has been the situation until now. Recently I have come...

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