An Elegy for The South China Tiger

The South China Tiger is now extinct. It is the fourth sub species to become extinct within a century and is, according to tiger experts the ancestor of all other sub- species. Specimens remain in zoos, but these are all cross breeds and not true to type

 From an article in The Sunday Times 21/11/10

No longer will this sheet of flame
Come padding through the Chinese rain
No longer will this work of art
Inspire us with its jungle craft
A creature now consigned to myth
Becomes a number on a list
A ghostly calligraphic script
Whose pug marks vanish into mist
We hunt in vain for sight or sound
Whose scent is lost – cannot be found
Though represented everywhere
On temple walls and clothes and chairs
It has no representatives at all
Beyond the temple’s boundary walls
What lived and breathed and fought and thrived
Was twelve feet four and three feet wide
Is now a picture in a book
A pictogram
A frozen look
That gazes out from yesterday
Which now seems very far away
“And was it real?” the daughter asks
Did Noah save it on the ark
Or was it just a magic tale
Like Jonah and the giant whale?”
“I saw it.” Said the daughter’s dad
When I was just a little lad
It was the most amazing thing
With stars for eyes and fire for skin
But we have let it slip away
Across the fields and far away.”
The girl looked sad
The father sighed
And so it was the tiger died
We hunt in vain for sight or sound
Whose scent is lost – cannot be found
Though represented everywhere
On temple walls and clothes and chairs
It has no representatives at all
Beyond the temples boundary walls
What lived and breathed and fought and thrived
Was twelve feet four
And three feet wide
Is now a picture in a book
A pictogram
A frozen look
That gazes out from yesterday
Which now seems very far away
And in the taxidermist’s case
We see the tiger face to face
But see no star and feel no fire
Just bolsters stuffed with chicken wire
And glass eyes where the stars all shone
Because we shot them – every one
Without a shadow of a doubt
And let the tiger’s fire go out.

 

                                                 Richard Bonfield  Born Free Poet in Residence c  November 2010
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