From “Bestiary”

The curtain goes up on the reading world
from A to Zoo, emblematic.
Here come the animals, tame and wild:
Already it's problematic.


*


Apes smile at what they see
When standing before mirrors.
People smile or laugh, may be,
looking on their lives in letters.


*


Is reading hard, or is it fun?
Is it grasshopper or ant?
Well, if you must know, son,
Grab your specs and pipe a chant!


*


From blackbird to starling, the birds have gone their way.
Ice and snow everywhere. Only a sparrow, what's he up to?
Sends you this Haiku/ on New Year's Day,
online./ The wind dies down anew.


*


Climbing onto a branch (he had vision,
this bird, you could call it foresight),
the Archeopteryx made a decision:
Tomorrow begins the age of flight.


*


Dive with your book to the oysterbank.
You can find precious pearls there.
They are the poet's tears. Thank
him for his grief and care.


*


A thriller in bed by lamplight
is like Ursa Major or Orion.
It's not an animal and can't bite,
so you can bear it in any season.


*


Breakfast standing up. Green tea. Toast. No bit
of egg or even marmalade.
And no honey from busy bees with it.
No time for the paper. Too bad.


*


Reading history: heraldically
the eagle has two heads in all.
Think instead of the leech to see
how the big can bleed the small.


*


Beware the book of love,
for boas and vipers nest there.
On Noah's ark they're not unheard of,
so rabbits and readers—take care!


*


If animals can read, who's
their pet author? Brehm, I think,
is the one they'd choose
to put their lives in ink.


*


Fluid mechanics is the beaver's occupation;
in his burrow the badger studies statics.
And what, may I ask, is your vocation?
Another, older science: emblematics.


*


An adventure book is a dolphin,
on its back it carries you.
Through the waves take a spin!
That on land you'll never do.


*


Frankfurt Book Fair: an elephant I greet.
What trick will he do this time?
Will he prance on his hind feet?
Or float aloft again, sublime?


*


Unicorns cannot in nature be espied
or captured prancing thereabout.
They're in old manuscripts descried
As we are reading or spelling out.


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In the Escorial, at the reading room door,
a magpie reads he mustn't steal,
else like all sinful souls, forevermore
he'll roast on Satan's wheel.


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The illustrateds keep you up to date on sex
among celebrities, not ordinary rabble.
You see life through rose-colored specs
And the geese gabble gabble gabble.


*


The owl of reading lives in Athens.
The Acropolis provides its rooms.
In Aristotle it gives lessons.
That alone speaks volumes.


*


There are animals who do not read.
The echoing ass is one of these.
As a politician he will not succeed
except in Washington DCs.


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How does the gazelle read so fast
As if it were a cinch?
Always first, never last?
She doesn't budge an inch.


*


In the Caucasus, a vulture forever eats
at Prometheus's limitless liver.
In reading, it's the heart that beats
as our benefactor and giver.


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If you read only lofty lines
You're a reading giraffe
And likely drink wines
From a crystal carafe.


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After dark (trust me, Anna-Marie!)
A female gnu doesn't roam the Savannah.
She reads, dances, has friends to tea.
Learning comes before loving (thinks Marie-Anna!)


*


Lie on the sofa reading, petting a
dog with wooly white hair.
Have another cookie, forgetting a
while: Mother Hulda's out there.


*


It wouldn't be fun to swim the Atlantic;
A shark would bite you. However,
Moby-Dick on the beach would be romantic,
and the shark will know that . . . never.


*


To read hares have no time,
run an endless race instead.
The hedgehogs read a rhyme
And win the race in bed.


*


May the paper be your hound
and faithful friend canine.
On the doorstep he is found,
And never in the headline.


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The desert is a book; the camel reads
and dreams of an oasis. The caravan
Moves on. The camel heeds
and clears his nose of sand.


*


You mighty centaurs, combinations
half and half of man and horse,
doubly honored by ancient nations,
For me you're only half the worse.


*


A crow circles over house and sty:
Reviewer in the purlieu!
I trust he won't peck out my eye?
Remember: I'm a crow too.


*


Cancer, Leo, Virgo help us
mark our page at night.
A bookshelf to illumine us
Until they yield to light.


*


Edifying reading, harmless lamb.
You can praise it as allegory,
Warmly embrace it, and then, by damn,
Have it for dinner—end of story.


*


Newsstand novels: they're lice
on the literary body, a real pain.
Some itch, others find 'em nice,
Critics pick the nits in vain.


*


City mouse and country mouse,
an enmity never to cease.
Now both gnaw in my house
on Kant's Eternal Peace.


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The mole, whose passages are hewn
below the earth where he belongs,
learns all about the sun and moon
listening to Orphic songs.


*


When going to China, don't take your pup,
take a thick book, that's my advice.
Someone will catch and cook him up.
No one fries a book with rice.


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Neglect not the nightingale renowned,
read or write a love-letter!
She fills your heart with joyful sound;
If you're ill, you'll soon feel better.


*


If you're a "rational animal," then
give the orangutan a book!
He has a soul and mind like men,
and wants to look in every nook.


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In Germany, a parrot can do anything
with his beak; his gifts are lavish.
Read and write with understanding,
but not speak Schwäbisch.


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When humans finally have to go,
will you other apes someday
read Darwin? Just so you know—
the fittest don't survive this way.


*


In Eden, whose deed
started this literary rush?
The serpent hissing: Read!
So now we read and blush.


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Children's books, oh butterfly,
aloft 'twixt heaven and earth!
You could still, before you die,
to a bookworm give birth.


*


Ostrich, don't stick your head in the sand
when the bookworld seems to be sinking.
Head up! Harry Potter's alive, and
Now stop that negative thinking!


*


The Biblical Noah loved wine,
and sadly was often drunk.
But he saved the brutes and kine,
for his ark was never sunk.


*


If you like animals and tales,
German folk or French urbane,
There are three names, all L's:
Luther, Lessing, La Fontaine.


*


There's no wolf in the wood,
Grandmother, read on in peace!
Little Red Riding Hood
has a new book in her pelisse.


*


The great gate of the Eden zoo
stands open to reader and beast.
We can hear the mixed chorus, too.
Let's hope we're let in at least.


Translation of Das Leben und Lesen der Tiere: Ein Bestiarium. Copyright Verlag C.H. Beck, München 2008. By arrangement with the publisher. Translation copyright Steven Rendall. All rights reserved.