Wednesday 13 September 2023

Charles Causley


This charming Tweet, (or whatever the things formerly known as Tweets are now called), reminded me of what may be Charles Causley's most famous poem - the one about a dancing bear. 

In 1985, to my astonishment, I saw a dancing bear. It was in Belgrade, in an underpass near the BIP - (Beogradsko Industriuja Pivo) - factory (was there ever a more enticingly named beer?) and the rehabilitation hospital where men from whatever socialist conflict Yugoslavia was then supporting in Africa lay on loungers contemplating their lost limbs and the perpetual snarls of traffic on the spaghetti junction beside which the institution was positioned.

Years later I encountered Causley's poem for the first time. He captured perfectly the expression in the eyes of the bear I saw, sadly. It was one of the most melancholy things I've ever witnessed:

My Mother Saw A Dancing Bear

My mother saw a dancing bear
By the schoolyard, a day in June.
The keeper stood with chain and bar
And whistle-pipe, and played a tune.

And bruin lifted up its head
And lifted up its dusty feet,
And all the children laughed to see
It caper in the summer heat.

They watched as for the Queen it died
They watched it march. They watched it halt.
They heard the keeper as he cried,
‘Now, roly-poly!’ ‘Somersault!’

And then, my mother said, there came
The keeper with a begging-cup,
The bear with burning coat of fur,
Shaming the laughter to a stop.

They paid a penny for the dance,
But what they saw was not the show;
Only, in bruin’s aching eyes,
Far-distant forests, and the snow.

Charles Causley

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