The Pangolin


Another armored animal – scale
            lapping scale with spruce-cone regularity until they
form the uninterrupted central
      tail-row! This near artichoke with head and legs and grit-equipped gizzard,
      the night miniature artist engineer is,
            yes, Leonardo do Vinci's replica –
                  impressive animal and toiler of whom we seldom hear.
            Armor seems extra. But for him,
                  the closing ear-ridge –
                        or bare ear lacking even this small
                        eminence and similarly safe

contracting nose and eye apertures
            impenetrably closable, are not; a true ant-eater,
not cockroach-eater, who endures
      exhausting solitary trips through unfamiliar ground at night,
      returning before sunrise; stepping in the moonlight,
            on the moonlight peculiarly, that the outside
                  edges of his hands may bear the weight and save the claws
            For digging. Serpentined about
                  the tree, he draws
                        away from danger unpugnaciously,
                        with no sound but a harmless hiss; keeping

the fragile grace of the Thomas-
            of-Leighton Buzzard Westminster Abbey wrought-iron vine, or
rolls himself into a ball that has
      power to defy all effort to unroll it; strongly intailed, neat
      head for core, on neck not breaking off, with curled-in feet.
            Nevertheless he has sting-proof scales; and nest
                  of rocks closed with earth from inside, which he can thus darken.
            Sun and moon and day and night and man and beast
                  each with a splendor
                        which man in all his vileness cannot
                        set aside; each with an excellence!

"Fearful yet to be feared," the armored
            ant-eater met by the driver-ant does not turn back, but
engulfs what he can, the flattened sword-
      edged leafpoint on the tail and artichoke set leg- and body-plates
      quivering violently when it retaliates
            and swarms on him. Compact like the furled fringed frill
                  on the hat-brim of Gargallo's hollow iron head of a
            matador, he will drop and will
                  then walk away
                        unhurt, although if unintruded on,
                        he cautiously works down the tree, helped


by his tail. The giant-pangolin-
            tail, graceful tool, as prop or hand or boom or ax, tipped like
an elephant's trunk with special skin,
      is not lost on this an- and stone-swallowing uninjurable
      artichoke which simpletons thought a living fable
            whom the stones had nourished, whereas ants had done
                  so. Pangolins are not aggressive animals; between
            dusk and day they have the not unchain-like machine-like
                        form and frictionless creep of a thing
                        made graceful by adversities, con-

versities. To explain grace requires
            a curious hand. If that which is at all were not forever,
why would those who graced the spires
      with animals and gathered there to rest, on cold luxurious
      low stone seats – a monk and monk and monk – between the thus
            ingenious roof supports, have slaved to confuse
                  grace with a kindly manner, time in which to pay a debt,
            the cure for sins, a graceful use
                  of what are yet
                        approved stone mullions branching out across
                        the perpendiculars? A sailboat

was the first machine. Pangolins, made
            for moving quietly also, are models of exactness,
on four legs; on hind feet plantigrade,
      with certain postures of a man. Beneath sun and moon, man slaving
      to make his life more sweet, leaves half the flowers worth having,
            needing to choose wisely how to use his strength;
                  a paper-maker like the wasp; a tractor of foodstuffs,
            like the ant; spidering a length
                  of web from bluffs
                        above a stream; in fighting, mechanicked
                        like the pangolin; capsizing on

disheartenment. Bedizened or stark
            naked, man, the self, the being we call human, writing-
master to this world, griffons a dark
      "Like does not like like that is obnoxious"; and writes error with four
      r's, Among animals, one has a sense of humor.
            Humor saves a few steps, it saves years. Unignorant,
                  modest and unemotional, and all emotion,
            he has everlasting vigor,
                  power to grow,
                        though there are few creatures who can make one
                        breathe faster and make one erecter.

Not afraid of anything is he,
            and then goes cowering forth, tread paced to meet an obstacle
at every step. Consistent with the
      formula – warm blood, no gills, two pairs of hands and a few hairs – that
      is a mammal; there he sits in his own habitat,
            serge-clad, strong-shod. The prey of fear, he, always
                  curtailed, extinguished, thwarted by the dusk, work partly done,
            says to the alternating blaze,
                  "Again the sun!
                        anew each day; and new and new and new,
                        that comes into and steadies my soul."


Marianne Moore, The Collected Poems of Marianne Moore, Viking Penguin, 1941.