Dick Davis


A Clerihew Bestiary

A is for animal, B is for Beast;
We claim we’re more than that at least –
I wouldn’t be so sure;
A lot of us are not much more.

C is for Centaur;
In Greece once one was the mentor
Of sulky Achilles
(One of history’s bigger sillies).

D is for dragon;
If you find a high romantic crag on
Which a dragon’s breathing fire,
Forget about Siegfried: retire.

E is for elephants,
Who almost never belly dance;
The very thought is nauseating
And cringe-creating.

F is for Flamingoes,
Who, as far as an aesthetic fling goes,
Are unbeatable,
And almost infinitely repeatable.

G is for goat,
Who’s all bones and a coat;
He thinks a tasty comestible
Is anything not utterly indigestible.

H is for Hippo – no, no, not that one.
I mean the intolerably fat one;
Few hippos list among their possessions
A copy of St. Augustine’s Confessions.

I is for Ibis:
You never hear them cry, “Bis!”
They prefer wading in water
To operatic passion and slaughter.

J is for Jaguar,
A big cat, but also a car;
One’s ecologically respectable;
The other isn’t, but it is delectable.

K is for kitten:
Once bitten, twice smitten,
Terminally attractive
And scratchily interactive.

L is for Lion, also Lynx, and Leopard,
Who are no one’s idea of a shepherd.
(It’s quite a shock
When the shepherd devours the flock.)

M is for Mink:
Time was, a drink, a wink, a minx’s slink,
Soignée in mink, plus Cartier –
Et voilà, a script for Doris Day.

N is for newt:
Newts are rarely considered cute,
Though they can have a certain fascination
For small boys of limited imagination.

O is for onager – the Wild Ass of Asia;
I suppose you think, prima facie,
I’m about to make a pun on Wild Ass;
But I’ve more class.

P is for people, our lot:
I’m afraid we’re a greedy and sour lot –
One can’t but help feeling the planet
Might be nicer if, say, Porpoises ran it.

Q is for Queen Bee,
Who it seems is a bit of a mean bee,
Since a successful assignation
Always involves her suitor’s assassination.

R is for ram,
The great ovine “I am”;
He thinks knives are not cricket
When he’s caught in a thicket.

S is for sheep;
Though they’re efficacious for sleep
They lack espièglerie and flair;
They’re candidates for pastoral care.

T is for Tortoise, also Turtle, and Terrapin:
When raced against hares they’re quite certain to win.
And now let me tell you
About a really nice Bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you …

U is for Unicorn;
Forlorn, with one horn,
He, rather transparently, tries to seduce us
Into his hortus conclusus.

V is for vermin:
It’s hard to determine
Who makes more fuss –
Us seeing them, or them seeing us.

W is for whale;
Their size seems like a comfy fairy-tale.
I walked once through the arching skeleton
Of an endearingly prodigious one.

X is for animals that are forbidden:
The angst-inducing Monsters that stay hidden,
The simorgh, and the manticore,
The wild monocerous who’s soaked in gore.

Y is for Yeti,
Huge, hairy, and sweaty:
(Reports of his presence are persistent,
But he’s probably non-existent).

Z is for Zephyrosaurus,
Who has long since joined extinction’s chorus,
Which is sad. And even sadder is that, as a dinosaur,
He never once sang, “Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more.”

Z is also for Zenaida,
A dove excluded from Aida,
Though her song’s notes are a tone apart;
She was named by a doting Bonaparte.

And Z is for zoozoo,
A wood-pigeon twee as a tutu;
Lovey-dovey and cute, I doubt that I’ve seen a
More ineffably plump ballerina. …

But never mind. As Shakespeare said much better,
Z is a whoreson, unnecessary letter:
A sign it’s time to shut up shop
And stop.



Dick Davis is Professor Emeritus of Persian at Ohio State University, where he was chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures from 2002 to 2012. He has written scholarly works on both English and Persian literature, as well as eight volumes of his own poetry. He has been the recipient of numerous academic and literary awards, including both the Ingram Merrill and Heinemann awards for poetry; his publications include volumes of poetry and verse translation chosen as books of the year by The Sunday Times (UK) 1989; The Daily Telegraph (UK) 1989; The Economist (UK) 2002; The Washington Post 2010, and The Times Literary Supplement (UK) 2013. He has published numerous book-length verse translations from medieval Persian, most recently, Faces of Love: Hafez and the Poets of Shiraz (2012). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and has been called, by the Times Literary Supplement, “our finest translator from Persian.”