21
Sep
10

The Bedside Book of Beasts

“There are books so alive that you’re always afraid that while you weren’t reading, the book has gone and changed, has shifted like a river; while you went on living, it went on living too, and like a river moved on and moved away. No one has stepped twice into the same river. But did anyone ever step twice into the same book?” – Marina Tsvetaeva

A spectacular anthology with stunning illustrations and literature from all eras and cultures, capturing the power, grace and inventiveness of both predators and their natural prey. There are myths, fables, poems, excerpts from nature and travel writing, journals, sacred texts and works of fiction – a fantastic compilation; “a fascinating exploration of the chain of life, of survival and mortality…evoking in us a profound sense of the eternal though often unsettling connection between the human animal and the free, untamed creatures of the wilderness.”

From its pages:

‘At one time in this world of prey, predators, co-predators and camp followers there was a perfect balance, without conflict. Even man was in tune with nature, hunting with his crude weapons and also feeding on the left-overs which he shared with jackals and vultures. He was part of the ecology of tigerland. But now, with his population explosion, technical achievements and greed in storing for the future, he has become not only the dominant predator in tigerland but a consumer of the natural habitat. From his position it is obvious that he is no more a part of the ecology of tigerland but a defier of natural laws. The result is clear: his own position is in peril.’ – Kailash Sankhala (1925-1994), India

‘No one thinks of a heard of bears, a drove of tigers, or a flock of eagles. Our image of these animals is as individuals, as part of a singular grandeur, whose uniqueness of powers and spirit would be degraded by their gathering in crowds.’ – Paul Shepard

‘Lying gracefully with its paws stretched out in front, its head up, and its emerald eyes motionless, the panther was a splendid species of the savage products of the country. Not a touch of yellow sullies its black velvet skin – of a blackness so deep and dull that the sunlight was absorbed by it as water is absorbed by a sponge. When you turned from this ideal form of supple beauty – of terrific force in repose – of silent and royal disdain – to the human creatures who were timidly gazing at it, open-eyed and open-mouthed, it was not the human beings who had the superiority over the animal. The latter was so much the superior that the comparison was humiliating.’ – Barbey D’Aurevilly (1808-1889), France

‘Each time I look into the eye of an animal, one as “wild” as I can find in its own elements – or maybe peering through zoo bars will have to do . . . I find myself staring into a mirror of my own imagination. What I see there is deeply, crazily, unmercifully confused. There is in that animal eye something both alien and familiar. There is in me, as in all human beings, a glimpse of the interior, from which everything about our minds has come. The crossing holds all the power and purity of first wonder, before habit and reason dilute it. The glimpse is fleeting. Quickly, I am left in darkness again, with no idea whatsoever how to go back.’ – Ellen Meloy (1946-2004), United States

‘If you do not know how to die, never trouble yourself; nature will in a moment fully and sufficiently instruct you; she will exactly do that business for you, take no care for it.’ – Michel De Montaigne (1533-1592), France

‘There was once a woman who gave birth to an abortion, and taking care that none should know, she threw the thing to the dogs, for she did not wish to observe all the troublesome rites imposed on women thus rendered unclean….’ – Told by Naukatjik, Inuit. Translated by Knud Rasmussen (1879-1933), Denmark/Greenland

I get swept-away each time I step into this book!


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