‘I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him’

Antechinus, my hero, small furred friend,
I come to bury, not praise you, in your house,
The sclerophyll forest — yet, if I commend
Your brief fierce life, intrepid marsupial mouse,
It is that your image, mirrored in my mind,
Strangely reflects features of my own kind.

First to rehearse your scarcely credible tale:
Born in September, reared two months in the pouch,
You live life as a solitary male;
By day in hollow trees or logs you crouch;
By night hunt worms and insects in the dew,
While owl and snake and native cat hunt you.

And, if you should survive till next July,
The time is ripe for you to find a mate;
Then, knowing that, having mated, you will die,
Your small, wild heart grows grim with rage and hate,
To hunt and savage all members of your race,
Even the female clutched in your embrace.

That copulation, charged with love and death,
May last ten hours and even more, they say;
And, though it trips the trap that stops your breath,
Does that supreme delirium repay
The solitude, the darkness, the blind strife
Of this short, savage irony, your life?

An irony no species quite escapes,
For love and death too rule the human dream.
Lives of all mammals, like their bodily shapes,
Are simply variations on one theme
Whose patterns ring changes on a paradox
Common to all our biological clocks.

Though, a faint echo of your starker tale,
Some of us live to a full century,
With us the female, too, outlives the male,
But for no purpose now, that I can see;
When summonsed by death’s peremptory call
Mere span of life means nothing much at all.

Guided by Nature’s all-adapting voice
Man has managed a variation more benign;
I am not faced with your heroic choice
Of love entailing death, nor you with mine
Of love repeated to fritter itself away
In change and failure or final sad decay.

If only the author of Leviathan
Had known your case, for sure, he would have thought
Yours a parable of his life of primitive man:
‘Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’!
He would have laughed to see, confirmed in you,
His paradigm justified, his fable true.

And yet, who knows, old Tom, who never wed,
‘Used women little’, could not abide a wife,
Singing prick-song in his solitary bed,
Which exercise, he thought, prolonged his life,
At last, at ninety being by love possessed,
Might well have envied your consummatum est!

And so do I, and wonder, if the course
Of evolution had reversed our roles,
How would I cope with that compulsive force
In time’s black frost, when to her fire of coals
Our naked Venus beckoned, with her full
Breasts and bold thighs and, on her neck, a skull.

Would cowards by then have bred out with no trace?
Would love with us by now have grown a deed
Dared gladly for continuance of the race
As bearers of that sole immortal seed,
Through which if my own species has forgot,
The River of Life still runs — though yours has not?

And might we not, in recompense, have known
The crown of love, compelled to the one choice,
Sole passion, sole fulfilment, all one’s own,
And heard the solitary poet’s voice
Proclaiming, pure beyond comparison, the
Absolute, full and final ecstasy?

Antechinus, my friend, almost forgot
In such reflections, let us reflect again,
Since life presents each absolutely and not
As rival species, from amoebas to men,
Which has achieved the best that life can give?
We do not know; we accept our lot and live.

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