Poetry Wednesday: Sluggish

English: Snail by Hokusai

Under the evening moon
the snail
is stripped to the waist.

—Kobayashi Issa

The other day, I read an article about a Nobel Laureate scientist, Dr. Eric Kandel, who researched the way memory works by examining sea slugs. Considering the state of my own memory, I found this stunningly appropriate. It also interested me that Dr. Kandel mentioned that he chose these slugs, called Aplysia, not only because their brains are simple, but because Aplysia_californicathey’re fun to look at, too.

I checked ’em out and it’s true—they are.

So naturally, I wondered, as anyone would,  if there were any poems about slugs. The answer is yes, but I can’t share the best ones—Jennifer Chang’s “Conversation with Slugs and Sarah” and Brain Swann’s “Slugs” here because I don’t have permission.

The ones I can share aren’t particularly good ones, though the  banana slug  ode had an interesting rhyme scheme—squishy isn’t the easiest word to pair up.

Luckily for bloggers worried about copyright, snails—who are just slugs with RVs—have apparently inspired poets for centuries.

Especially, as it turns out, anonymous gardener poets, who may not have Aplysian memories, but know how to hold a serious grudge:*

Remonstrance With The Snails
(Anonymous, 1847)

Ye little snails,
With slippery tails,
Who noiselessly travel
Along this gravel,
By a silvery path of slime unsightly,
I learn that you visit my pea rows nightly.
Felonious your visit, I guess!
And I give you this warning,
That, every morning,
I’ll strictly examine the pods;
And if one I hit on,
With slaver or spit on,
Your next meal will be with gods.
I own you’re a very ancient race,
And Greece and Babylon were amid;
You have tenanted many a royal dome,
And dwelt in the oldest pyramid;
English: Snail Perfect weather for snails to c...The source of the Nile!  O, you have been there!
In the ark was your floodless bed;
On the moonless night of marathon
You crawled o’er the mighty dead;
But still, though I reverence your ancestries,
I don’t see why you should nibble my peas.
The meadows are yours, the hedgerow and brook,
You may bathe in their dews at morn;
By the aged sea you may sound your shells,
On the mountains, erect your horn;
The fruits and the flowers are your rightful dowers,
Then why—in the name of wonder—
Should my pea-rows be the only cause
To excite your midnight plunder?
I have never disturbed your slender shells;
You have hung around my aged walk;
And each night have sat, till he died in his fat,
Beneath his own cabbage-stalk:
But now you must fly from the soil of your sires:
Then put on your liveliest crawl,
And think of your poor little snails at home,
Now orphans or emigrants all.
Utensils domestic and civil and social
I give you an evening to pack up;
But if the moon of this night does not rise on your flight,
To-morrow I’ll hang each man Jack up.
You’ll think of my peas and your thievish tricks,
With tears of slime, when crossing the Styx.

If darkness should not let thee read this,
Furtive snail,
Go ask thy friend, the glow-worm,
For his tail.

Richard Lovelace wrote a poem that describes snails beautifully without actually being about snails at all—you can tell because it goes on at great length about the “Wise Emblem of our political world,” which is a lovely bit of not-too-subtle sarcasm, if you hadn’t guessed.

But it works either way, as you can see from favorite verse, which might be even better if you keep in mind that he’s actually writing about politicians:

Thou thine own daughter then, and sire,
That son and mother art entire,Front of snail. Actual size is 1 centimeter. P...
That big still with thy self dost go,
And liv’st an aged embryo;
That like the cubs of India,
Thou from thyself a while dost play;
But frighted with a dog or gun,
In thine own belly thou dost run,
And as thy house was thine own womb,
So thine own womb concludes thy tomb.

—“The Snail,” Richard Lovelace

I found several more recent snail poems, which can be found on The Poetry Foundation website.  I particularly like Thom Gunn’s “Considering the Snail,” which is actually about a snail, which is a nice change, you should pardon any potential puns, of pace.


*Personally, I’m a terrible gardener anyway, so I’m almost flattered when snails and other beasts think my plants are worth molesting.  Almost.