adapted from a Filipino folktale

__Once, when the sun was at its height,
A dragonfly thought she’d alight
Upon a branch. The air was hot,
And she fatigued. So, on that spot,
Under the shade of foliage blessed,
The dragonfly judged she would rest.

__As with her wings she fanned her face,
Hoping to cool herself apace,
One of the monkeys soon approached her
And with these hostile words reproached her:
“Oh, wretched thing, why are you here?
We monkeys rule this leafy sphere.”

__“Oh, sir,” the dragonfly replied,
“Please, let me here a while abide.
The sun is hot. The air is dry.
And I’m too tired to further fly.
For I have flown for hours on end
And must my buzzing flight suspend.”

__The monkey said in mocking mood,
“Weak things like you may not intrude
Into our bowery domain.
Now off with you. My words are plain.”
And without any more ado,
A twig he at the insect threw.

__The dragonfly, though, was too fast
And dodged the monkey’s twiggy blast.
She zipped away in a great pother
To seek her king who was her brother,
And when she told him what occurred,
His wrath beyond all words was stirred.
He then and there swore he would make
A war for his dear sister’s sake.
But first, he sent three dragonflies-at-arms
To fill his foes with mad alarms.

__The dispatch read, “Oh, Primate King,
War to your branches I will bring.
On this dire matter, to be blunt,
My sister got a vile affront.
A simian, subject to your rule,
Drove her away with insults cruel
And broke the laws of hospitality.
Therefore, with might I’ll storm your tree
And slay your monkeys with all speed.
You have been warned, so now take heed.”

__The monkey monarch laughed with glee,
Took up the gauntlet, saying he
Welcomed the battle yet to be,
And counter-challenged thus: “Your horde
Release, oh, little droning lord.
Send forth your minions monkeyward.
When our two armies come to blows,
You shall see how the battle goes.”

__“Cruel king,” the messengers then said,
“No monkey ever spun fate’s thread.
You should not judge before the fight
The side which destiny may smite.”

__“You fools, you fools!” exclaimed the king,
“You have my answer. Now take wing.”
And he the insects shooed away.

__The messengers without delay,
When to their homeland they returned,
Told to their ruler what they’d learned.
He instantly, his wings athrum,
Let loose his troops toward monkeydom,
And through the air they whirred and tore
Yet lacked strong implements of war.

__The monkeys, though, came to the struggle
Armed with stout sticks their foes to knuckle.
The primate prince, at the attack,
Cried out, “Now use your clubs and smack
These flying things with mortal thwack.”

__King Dragon, hearing this command,
Then signaled that his soldiers land
Atop each adversary’s crown.
Thus, as the simian strikes rained down,
The dragonflies were far too quick
And swerved from every flailing stick.
And so Prince Monkey and his force
Were dealt death blows—and killed, of course.

Moral

To die is sure, but war’s a bet,
For wit the best of strength may get.

 

Prose Sources:

  • Fansler, Dean S. Filipino Popular Tales. Lancaster PA: American Folk-Lore Society, 1921: 379-
    381. (Suggests variants of the same story.)
  • Livo, Norma J., and Dia Cha. Folk Stories of the Hmong Peoples of Laos, Thailand, and
    Vietnam. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1991: 67-68.
  • “The Monkeys and the Grasshoppers” uses grasshoppers instead of dragonflies in the war with the monkeys.

 

Terry L. Norton is professor emeritus of literacy acquisition at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He is the author of Cherokee Myths and Legends: Thirty Tales Retold as well as academic books and articles on literacy and literature for children and young adults. His poetry has appeared in Ekphrastic Review, Kakalak Review, and The Society for Classical Poetry. His renditions of the first century Latin poet Phaedrus received second place in the 2020 translation competition sponsored by The Society.


NOTE: The Society considers this page, where your poetry resides, to be your residence as well, where you may invite family, friends, and others to visit. Feel free to treat this page as your home and remove anyone here who disrespects you. Simply send an email to mbryant@classicalpoets.org. Put “Remove Comment” in the subject line and list which comments you would like removed. The Society does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or comments and reserves the right to remove any comments to maintain the decorum of this website and the integrity of the Society. Please see our Comments Policy here.

20 Responses

  1. Lawrence Fray

    A lovely poem which I will read online. to a class of primary students; it will make them happy indeed

    Reply
  2. Terry L. Norton

    I’m glad you enjoyed the poem and hope that your students will as well.

    The folktale on which it is based is one of those that travels with variants created depending on the location and circumstances. One version from the Hmong of Southeast Asia has grasshoppers instead of dragonflies.

    Thanks again.

    Reply
  3. Margaret Coats

    Quite entertaining, Terry, with some particularly amusing word choices: twiggy blast, wings athrum, mortal thwack. Enjoyed it very much–and I’m still wondering how the dragonflies dispatched the monkeys.

    Reply
    • Terry L. Norton

      Thank you, Margaret. I’ve collected numerous tales about monkeys from around the world and have enjoyed adapting them as verse narratives.

      Reply
  4. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Terry, I love this! I have a particular fondness for monkeys and dragonflies and this poem has tapped into my inner child. I also appreciate your rhyming skill. My particular favorites (apart from all your internal wonders) are “droning lord/monkeyward” and “wings athrum/monkeydom” – such fun. The word “monkey” has now entered my top ten favorite words, and I think your monkey tales prove that your mind is as prehensile as a monkey’s tail. Bravo!!

    Reply
  5. Terry L. Norton

    Thank you, Susan, for the prehensile metaphor. I enjoyed attempting the word play in this piece.

    Reply
  6. Doris T Browder

    Terry, while reading I was delighted by four words in particular: apace, pother, athrum, thwack. This is a delightful tale!

    Reply
  7. Amanda Hall

    Dear Mr. Norton,
    I am delighted to find your animal fable on this lovely website. I think that this genre is under-represented, though having a history from Aesop to Animal Farm. Your internal rhymes are delightful. If this is not the wrong place to ask, I wonder whether you would consider reviewing my collection of original Aesopian fables for children. The tales are told in prose poetry and end with a Moral in a formal limerick. I would be honored and delighted if you would review it. Here is the link to the book, though, if you care to review, I’ll send along the file. Thank you for delighting all with your witty tale!
    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07CMBT1X8/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i33

    Reply
  8. Evelyn A Eickmeyer-Quinones

    Terry-

    Delightful! Delicious! Delovely!

    I especially enjoyed the use of the dragonflies over grasshoppers.

    Reply
  9. Connie Johnston

    Thank you for this poem! The language is fluid and lovely, and conjures vivid imagery of these beings.

    Reply
  10. Keith G bernard

    A thoroughly delightful tale encased in perfectly descriptive language. What a treat.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.