.

The Dodo of Mauritius

This island nation scarcely can be proud
Of avifauna lacking common sense,
Surviving only in the perfect tense,
Their right to life, existence disavowed.
With beaks immense, these pigeons well endowed,
Why did they never peck in self-defence?
Their dovelike mildness giving no offence,
They had no fear of man nor were they cowed

By hanger, broadsword, musket ball or pike.
As Eden was before the Fall, childlike
Their innocence. Disarming was their trust
In humankind whose all-consuming lust
Could never cease its slaughterous bloodshed
Till every dodo in the world was dead.

.

.

Knuckledusters in Montevideo

A pugilistic country, Uruguay.
In Montevideo I do recall
An open market: sold on every stall
Were knuckledusters, so surreal, but why?
Their minatory rôle would justify
A manufacturer’s recall for all
Or ‘phone call to the watchdogs to install
A Montevideo-recording spy.

And some of them were made of nickel-brass
And others steel and set with broken glass
Or garlanded with spikes and razor wire.
And to acquire one buyers don’t require
A special permit, so for now don’t try
To start a bar-room brawl in Uruguay.

.

.

Peter Hartley is a retired painting restorer. He was born in Liverpool and lives in Manchester, UK.


NOTE TO READERS: If you enjoyed this poem or other content, please consider making a donation to the Society of Classical Poets.

NOTE TO POETS: 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.


CODEC News:

39 Responses

    • Peter Hartley

      Roy – Thank you for your intriguing comment, although I might wish that we had had a more “beautiful outcome” for the poor dodo!

      Reply
  1. James A. Tweedie

    Clever sonnets.

    Too bad the Dodo’s “disarming” trust in humankind wasn’t effective in a literal sense as regards “the hanger, broadsword, musket ball or pike.”

    So sad to have lost such a unique and beautiful creature. The carnage was so complete that I have read there is only one extant complete Dodo skeleton in the world–in Mauritius.

    Also a nice pun on (Monte) video recording!

    Your advice in another poem (in your poetry book, Light in the Darkness) suggests that although there are some noteworthy sights in Uruguay there is really nothing to justify a visit to Montevideo itself. The knuckledusters have now given a final blow to any plans I may have had for ever visiting that quite out-of-the-way city.

    By the way, have you ever considered a second career as a travel advisor?

    Reply
    • Peyter Hartley

      James – Thank you for your comment, and thank you for observing the literal (and original) meaning of the word “disarming” which had escaped me during the writing of this poem. And yes, I have seen the cast of a dodo skeleton in Port Louis in Mauritius and, somewhere, a reconstruction of its egg. Its large size meant that it had no natural predators till man came along and wiped it out. There isn’t an enormous amount to see in Uruguay apart from the Palazzo Salvo which was the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere when it was built (long since overtaken by other buildings, even in Montevideo). Apart from the superabundance of knuckledusters on market stalls I found an English telephone box, surreally, all atilt on the shore at Maldonado; and if you like corned beef, Fray Bentos lies somewhere inland. There is nothing else to see in Uruguay.

      Reply
      • Ted

        It’s shocking what the Spanish did to them. Then again what of the South American Indians?

  2. Paul Freeman

    A good job in highlighting a prominent example of a man made extinction. Strangely, in the Middle East countries I’ve worked in, the folks are oblivious to the dodo’s demise, though they have their own near-extinction mascots such as the Arabian oryx.

    Thanks for the reads – and the Uruguayan warning – Peter.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Thank you, Paul, for your comment. Mankind seems to have had a predilection for rendering large flightless birds extinct, notably with the dodo in the seventeenth century and the great auk in the nineteenth. If the emperor penguin didn’t live in a climate so inimical to man no doubt it would have gone the same way. All three birds are vastly bigger than the next biggest in their tribes and all characterised by a lumbering gait. I’ve never heard of the Arabian (sic) oryx but I’ve learned from doing cryptic crosswords that MOST of the animals I’ve never heard of are antelopes!

      Reply
  3. Jeff Eardley

    Peter, I was reminded of a school visit to the local cop-shop to view a huge display of knuckledusters, one of which was pilfered by a classmate and brought back to the classroom in celebration. It is the only one I have ever seen. One of our local thugs has “LOVE” tattooed on on hand and “HAT” on the other, the missing “E” having been chewed off in a fight. Your travel poetry never ceases to enthrall, educate and entertain at the same time and you must, must work on an anthology which could surely rival that recent, over-bloated, over priced “Lyrics” by McCartney. I have just crossed “Uruguay” off the bucket list by the way. A fabulous read today Peter and thank you again.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Jeff – Thank you for the hilarious comment. If you ever had a feeling of deprivation or laboured under a deeply-held sense of injustice in having seen only one knuckleduster in a lifetime’s flea-market combing I still wouldn’t recommend a fourteen-thousand-mile round trip to Montevideo’s bric-à-brac stalls. Thieving from a cop-shop, by the way, is a bit saucy even for a member of the criminal underclass in Leek. When I worked for a short time in a textile mill as a student, one of my co-workers, unbelievably even then, had a swastika tattooed on his forehead. I can’t remember now if he also had CRAS IDIO tattooed on his knuckles.

      Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Allegra – Thank you for your very kind comment. If my poetry can help to prevent one fellow human being from accidentally blundering into Uruguay it will have all been worthwhile.

      Reply
  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    The Dodo lived on an isolated and uninhabited island, and had no natural predators. It had easy access to resources. So quite naturally it ceased to fly, grew very large and fat, had no need to compete or struggle, and never had to develop a fighting instinct. When the first men arrived in the sixteenth century, the Dodo was nothing but a big, stupid, trusting, and defenseless bird. Quite predictably, it was wiped out quickly.

    Let’s take that story as an allegory of what happens to a nation when it loses its fighting instincts and its capacity to kill enemies ruthlessly. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Yes, all very true. But do you not think this bird might have been worthy of pity in its plight? It didn’t ask to be born big, trusting, stupid and defenceless into a world in which it was ill-adapted to survive any more than I deserve to have been born into this same world with an incurable disease. Unlike the rest of the animal kingdom humanity is capable of, and is blessed and endowed with, compassion not only for itself but for the lesser creatures with whom it shares the earth as well as with the merely cold and remorseless pragmatism you express (but admittedly, as a Christian, do not necessarily defend or uphold) in your comment above. Surely two thousand years after the delivery of the Sermon on the Mount we ought to have replaced the notion of survival of the fittest with an accountability and responsibility for the protection of the weakest? But I certainly hadn’t intended to burden my poor harmless dodo with the responsibility for its own demise or make of it an allegory for human frailty. It’s just a poem about a dodo.

      Reply
      • Paul Freeman

        It didn’t help the dodo that the two islands it occurred on were on the route to India – fresh meat for sailors.

        Also, being large, lumbering and having no natural predators, it was ground dwelling. It therefore became victim to rats coming off of the visiting boats that ate its eggs.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      I have nothing against the Dodo, and am sorry that it became extinct. All I am saying is that, absent any need to fight and defend itself, it morphed from a simple South Asian pigeon into the big, fat, lumbering creature on Mauritius.

      What is true for the animal kingdom is also true for humans. When we become fat and lazy and unwarlike, we become prey for others.

      To connect it with your second poem: When we stop using knuckledusters, our enemies don’t fear us anymore.

      Reply
      • Peter Hartley

        Joe S – I am in full agreement with both your conclusions and I am also pleased to note that you have found a connection between the subjects of the two poems.

  5. Peter Hartley

    Paul – Yes, had the construction of the Suez Canal occurred a couple of centuries earlier mankind might never have seen the dodo until a more enlightened age felt more interest in preserving it. Rats do little harm to the dozens of ground-nesting species of birds in the UK, perhaps because they are more denizens of town than countryside, but certainly in times past rats landing from ships have caused untold damage to human and animal life. The entire human population of North Rona, for example, died of starvation around 1689 when rats from a ship landed and ate all their corn.

    Reply
  6. Yael

    Both poems are very entertaining and enjoyable, thank you. I wish school history books were written in this style, I might have been able to enjoy school a little bit as a child.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Yael – I always wished that we’d been able to study colourful periods in history like Roman Britain or the Tudors when I was at school, but all we seemed to get was nineteenth century UK domestic and foreign policy – not very good material to make poetry out of. Thank you for your comment.

      Reply
  7. Margaret Coats

    Peter, both of these are very well done story sonnets, in the hybrid form of a Petrarchan octave and a sestet of couplets. The dodo may have been “avifauna lacking common sense,” but they were too large to fit into the octave, and spilled over into the sestet only to stumble on all those weapons of species destruction. I would say you’re a little hard on humankind here, unless you know 17th-century sailors were determined on slaughtering every last dodo. This implies they were killed as pests, perhaps in addition to being eaten as meat. Did you find any accounts of what they tasted like? Probably bad, or some might have been transported elsewhere as breeding poultry. A fifty-pound bird would not fit in my oven, but roasting was done by open fire in those days. And the UK did go for turkeys over smaller and greasier geese.

    Never saw knuckledusters in the places where I have been to markets for locals, but that’s probably because they are little used in Japan or France. There might have been some in Peru, but there I went to tourist markets. I know that in Lima homeowners sometimes build high walls with barbed wire and broken glass on top, which is not allowed in suburban California. Maybe that will change with our current crime wave.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Margaret – Thank you for your comment. The substance of my octets often spills over into my sestets. I must say that I am always pleased when it doesn’t, but I don’t often strive too hard to avoid it. I usually try a bit harder to end up with some sort of development in the last two lines and I will admit it is a bit strange to end an Italian sonnet with a Shakespearean couplet. It is something I consciously decided to do from very early on in my sonneteering endeavours but I couldn’t now tell you exactly why. But I have written many regular Shakespearian ABABCDCDEFEFGG sonnets too, and at least a pair of quite early ones that excruciatingly boringly rhyme AAAAAAAAAAAAAA just to be different. I’m sorry to note as you have pointed out that my poor dodo, having partly dropped out of the bottom of his octet, has landed slap bang among the several means to compass his own destruction. This is most unfortunate.

      Reply
      • Peter Hartley

        Margaret: No, I have no idea what dodo was like to eat but James has assured me that he found its taste to be indistinguishable from the now extinct wry-necked pratincole.

  8. Jeff Eardley

    Peter, maybe we could get the Fort Worth heist team together to create the Macdodonalds burger franchise. Just a thought.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Jeff – our line manager’s oppo, the Bloody Butcher of Kaliningrad, advises we dissociate ourselves from FWHT till things have settled down. That blitzkrieg on the Carmelite nunnery didn’t do us any favours.

      Reply
      • Mike Bryant

        Peter, I was hoping that you had already accepted my mea culpa for the nunnery imbroglio. As you well know, my plan went terribly awry because of my mispronunciation of “Caramel.”
        Words really DO matter.

      • Peter Hartley

        Mike – nuking the chocolate caramel factory and seventy visiting school-children was even worse. It’s simply not acceptable.

  9. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Peter, I love your “The Dodo of Mauritius” for all of its marvellous rhymes and spot on rhythm. I also love your observation… humankind will always take advantage. This world will always be tainted with cruelty in spite of some of us trying to mitigate such behaviour in certain areas. This poem makes me ache to see a dodo… I’ve heard they’re delicious, but knowing the pitfalls of firing up the grill… I would only want one as a pet.

    Your eye-opening “Knuckledusters in Montevideo” is amazing. It reminds me of your “The Rats of Kathmandu” in that one learns so much when travelling. This poem seems to show how the act of violence is embraced with a nonchalance and an attention to style that blows the mind. It reminds me of the raffles we have here at local Texas churches… the prizes always include guns! At first I was shocked, then I laughed, and now I buy a couple of tickets.

    Peter, thank you, as ever for your fine poetry. It always inspires me and always makes me think.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Susan – Thank you for the kind remarks, and it’s about time the dodo had its say. I imagine that were most of us to spot this bird for the first time today, our first reaction would NOT be to shoot it. I can’t see any particular virtue in artificially preserving, except in our museums and for academic interest, animals that in the natural course of events are going to render themselves extinct. That is just natural selection, but mankind, in the case of the dodo, seems to have exerted more than a “natural” impact on the rate of its extinction. Like you I would love to have seen this unique bird in its natural environment (and it is sad to know that nobody ever will) if only because reconstructions of this unique bird’s appearance, as in Evan’s picture above, always look so improbable. Only a rabid ornithomane is going to get too dismayed that the USA has lost its passenger pigeon, but just look at that dodo – it really was something special wasn’t it?

      Reply
      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Peter, the dodo really was something special – a sight to behold. Your poetic words say just that… words we could all learn a lesson from. Thank you.

  10. Peter Hartley

    Susan – to have spotted a dodo in real life for the very first time must have been as intriguing as the first sighting of a turtle or a banana must be to someone who has never seen a picture of one. I wonder if those sixteenth century sailors betrayed the same insuppressible excitement that a small child has on its first sighting of snow or did they affect the blasé know-it-all attitude of your average Labrador retriever?

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Peter, if I was one of those sixteenth century sailors, I would have behaved exactly as I did when I spotted my first hummingbird and my first painted bunting here in Texas. My eyes lit up with wonder and I could barely contain my joy. This is why I took up photography… I get to go in search of the exotic and then look at the magic of nature’s marvels on my computer screen. I adore the gifts that grace God’s green earth… and a dodo is a gift I would have delighted in.

      Reply
      • Peter Hartley

        Susan – I too can remember (how could I forget?) the sight of my first hummingbird, in Arequipa in Peru; a bird related, improbably, to the European swift in the mysterious realms of the taxonomist. Any poet who could be impervious to such beauties of the natural world is not a poet but a fraud.

  11. Clifton Anderson

    I’ll bet they tasted good. Bad taste might be an effective strategy to ensure survival.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Clifton, I’ve known many who have had bad taste for years and they’re still going strong. I think big appetites and small minds may have played a part. 🙂

      Reply
  12. David Watt

    Peter, I invariably learn something from your poetry. I had often heard the term “Uruguay round” in relation to trade negotiations. Now I picture a more pugilistic round with considerably less negotiation.
    The dodo was a strange looking bird, but like many other extinct creatures, didn’t deserve its fate. Thanks for these thought provoking sonnets.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      David – When I saw your name it reminded me, the first sight of a kangaroo by Europeans must have caused a few raised eye-brows. The camel, I think, has been described as looking as though it had been designed by a committee. I think you could say the same of the dodo and the kangaroo. You will probably know that we used to have a snurd of red-necked wallabies in Derbyshire UK, introduced in the 1940s, but they are believed to have died out now. A sight of one of those up on the moors would have given me a double-take!

      Reply
  13. Tamara Beryl Latham

    Your sonnet on the dodo bird was excellent. The meter was superb and the rhyme scheme unusual, but impressive. Great job. 🙂

    Referencing the dodo, their slaughter by man was only one of the reasons they went extinct. Sailors brought rats, cats and pigs on their ships that went feral. These animals not only killed dodo birds, but ate their eggs, as well.

    The dodo, as mentioned in the article, with its parrot-like hooked beak, drew blood from many of the sailors, so it is said they did fight back.

    Yet, in the final analysis, man was responsible for the extinction of the dodo.

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2016/09/20/what-happened-to-the-last-dodo-bird/?sh=1ff6a3399c2b

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Tamara – Thank you for the information about the dodo. I had thought they were totally harmless, peace-loving creatures who would not have even known what putting up a fight meant. I’m glad to hear that they may have fought back. But it is sad that a creature, so weird that it could inspire Lewis Carroll two hundred years after its extinction, has left so little behind it that we cannot be sure today precisely what it looked like. Thank you for your comment.

      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.