In the Memory of Elephants

“After 145 years of featuring elephants in its circus acts, Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey announced Thursday that it will retire its elephant herd by 2018.” National Geographic

“It’s not our fault,” the owner said,

And tried to look affronted.

“We’re businessmen and only gave

The public what it wanted.

A shame, in fact, since now we know

That they display deep feeling:

We might have put that in the show

And made them more appealing.”


The elephants are leaving.

And they’ll also leave a lack

For businessmen, but that’s too bad—

If ink is red, not black.

They lost their primal happiness,

And found with us such pain,

It’s hard to think they’ll ever find

That happiness again.


“We did our best,” Ringmaster said,

“to give them proper training

With chain and pain to make them know

Their job was entertaining

Since they were beasts and beasts must learn—

And better soon and faster—

Their place within the human world

Where God made Man the master.”


The elephants are leaving,

As circus glory fades.

No pushing up the big top,

No swaying in parades.

It’s lion, tigers, bears now on—

Not thrilling, but they’ll do—

Until we find, like elephants,

That they have feelings, too.


“We’re sorry now,” the public said.

“There was no way of knowing

That they had fears and joys like ours—

And, now we’ve learned, they’re going!

Our one excuse that we did not

Treat elephant as brother

Is, look around you and observe

How humans treat each other.”


The elephants are leaving.

They’ve gone without goodbye.

It’s too late now for grieving

And too clear the reason why.

We caught them and we used them

Not thinking they might be

If we did not abuse them

More humanlike than we.


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