Elegy for the Giant Tortoises

· Creative Expression, Essays · ,

by Margaret Atwood

Let others pray for the passenger pigeon
the dodo, the whooping crane, the eskimo:
everyone must specialize

I will confine myself to a meditation
upon the giant tortoises
withering finally on a remote island.

I concentrate in subway stations,
in parks, I can’t quite see them,
they move to the peripheries of my eyes

but on the last day they will be there;
already the event
like a wave traveling shapes vision:

on the road where I stand they will materialize,
plodding past me in a straggling line
awkward without water

their small heads pondering
from side to side, their useless armour
sadder than tanks and history,

in their closed gaze ocean and sunlight paralyzed,
lumbering up the steps, under the archways
toward the square glass altars

where the brittle gods are kept,
the relics of what we have destroyed.
our holy and obsolete symbols.

“Elegy for the Giant Tortoises” from Selected Poems 1965-1975 by Margaret Atwood. Copyright © 1975 by Margaret Atwood. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin in Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.