Few humans are aware that opossums have a long history of literary output. Perhaps their having opposable thumbs, allowing them to hold to a pen in much the same way as humans, has been a major factor in their creative development.
Unfortunately, because opossums live in the woods, their writings are constantly subject to the whims of nature, and as a result few of their literary contributions are extant. Most older works survive only in fragments, such as the ancient epic poem Beopossum, of which none but the opening lines remain:Another ancient work, still recited orally by opossum bards and scops, survives in written form in only two lines:Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum,
possumcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.There remain, too, a few fragmentary examples of wisdom poetry, the most notable of which is the surviving stanza of Counsel to ’Possums:’Possum! ’Possum! Burning bright
In the forests of the night...We present below a few of the existing works that have survived in their entirity. Should any of our readers have unearthed other works, in whole or in part, we should be greatly indebted to their forwarding those to us.Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time’s bones are a-aching;
And this same ’possum that grins today,
Tomorrow won’t be faking.
’PossumsUndoubtedly some of the above verses may seem familiar to many readers. This is quite understandable given that humans have through the ages tended to plagiarize from their marsupial fellows. The fragments bear an amazing resemblance to the anonymous Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, William Blake’s The Tyger, and Robert Herrick’s Counsel to Virgins. Likewise, the complete poems reveal borrowing by Joyce Kilmer in Trees, Lord Byron in She Walks in Beauty, and William Shakespeare in his Sonnet XXIX as well as in “O Mistress Mine” from Twelfth Night. Have they no shame!
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree
With ’possums clinging to each limb
Like tiny, pink-tailed cherubim.
A ’possum thinks of God all day,
And lifts her gaze as though to pray;
A ’possum may in Summer scare
A nest of robins from her lair;
And winter’s snow she does disdain,
Although she will acquaint with rain.
Poems are made by fools like us’em,
But only God can make a ’possum.
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that’s but of dark and bright
Meet in her fur and beady eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray less free,
Had half impaired the ’possum’s grace
Which swings in every raven tree.
Glint softly lightens o’er her face,
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how chaste their dwelling-place.
And on that nose or o’er that brow
So soft, so calm, so eloquent,
The grins that win, the feints that throw,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A ’possum’s heart is innocent.
When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
A ’possum doth beweep his outcast state,
And troubles deaf heaven with his bootless cries,
And looks upon himself as desolate,
Wishing himself like one more praised by man,
Featured like cat, or like dog with love possessed,
Desiring this pet’s coat, or that one’s scan,
With what he’s gifted most, contented least;
Yet in those thoughts himself almost despising,
Haply he climbs his tree and then his state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For ’possum love remembered, such wealth begets
That then he scorns to change his state with pets.
Opossum mine! where are you roaming?
O! stay and hear; your critter’s coming.
That can swing both high and low.
Trip no further, critter fleeting;
Journeys end in ’possums meeting,
Each marsupial’s son doth know.
What’s above? ’tis not an apple;
Boughs aloft will be our chapel;
What’s to come is still unsure:
Future’s face is old and dimply;
So come wed me pure and simply,
That’s this ’possum’s only cure.
The Mighty ’Possum (Recently discovered by Dennis Morgan)
The mighty ’possum
Its pelt ne’er sold
Copyright © 1998-2023 by John Craton.