Happy Christmas

I saw a polar bear

In a cage, in a zoo,

In a polar bear sweat,

Standing on a wet rock,

Dejected, defeated,

When I was only six.


The great white furry beast

Was in a tiny space.

I don’t think he could turn.

How could a child measure

Radius – circumference

When it is only six?


I questioned my father.

‘Is that OK for bears?’

He said, ‘It isn’t, and

I shouldn’t have brought you.

I’m sad you must see it,

When you are only six.’


The bear searched my child’s face

With huge dewy brown eyes

Which followed my movements.

Those moist eyes spoke to me.

They said, ‘Save me, can you,

You, who are only six?’


Sixty years on, I still

Remember those sad eyes

And their message, too hard

To understand at the time.

A cruelty is eternal

When you are only six.


What will the children of

Aleppo remember






10 Responses to “Happy Christmas”

  1. Fantastic, moving, thank you Clive. Reminded me of Rilke: The Panther. It’s really a toss up between you and him – the child’s perspective or the animal’s. Both great, in any case.

    “His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
    has grown so weary that it cannot hold
    anything else. It seems to him there are
    a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

    As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
    the movement of his powerful soft strides
    is like a ritual dance around a center
    in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

    Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
    lifts, quietly—. An image enters in,
    rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
    plunges into the heart and is gone.”

  2. Many thanks for the encouragement. I’m not sure I belong up in the giddy heights occupied by a genius such as Rilke. I didn’t know the Panther, (which you have kindly supplied) but my wife, who did a seminar on Rilke at Uni, read me the original German after seeing the translation. It is amazing. The translation is a different poem, because one cannot translate great literature, but it is still brilliant. Thanks to your tip, I have two for the price of one.

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