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The Poetic Otter
Did You Know?
Minks have powerful scent glands which are discharged when they are frightened. The smelliest British carnivore is probably the polecat (it used to be known as the foumart, short for foul marten)

The Poetic Otter

Otter, otter, wherefore art thou?
  • The Otter by Seamus Heaney, 1979
  • The Otter by Ted Hughes
  • The Otter Woman by Mary O'Malley, 1995

  • The Otter

    Seamus Heaney, 1979

  • When you plunged
  • The light of Tuscany wavered
  • And swung through the pool
  • From top to bottom.
  • I loved your wet head and smashing crawl,
  • Your fine swimmer's back and shoulders
  • Surfacing and surfacing again
  • This year and every year since.
  • I sat dry-throated on the warm stones.
  • You were beyond me.
  • The mellowed clarities, the grape-deep air
  • Thinned and disappointed.
  • Thank God for the slow loadening,
  • When I hold you now
  • We are close and deep
  • As the atmosphere on water.
  • My two hands are plumbed water.
  • You are my palpable, lithe
  • Otter of memory
  • In the pool of moment,
  • Turning to swim on your back,
  • Each silent, thigh-shaking kick
  • Re-tilting the light,
  • Heaving the cool at your neck.
  • And suddenly you're out,
  • Back again, intent as ever,
  • Heavy and frisky in your freshened pelt,
  • Printing the stones.
  • The Otter

    Ted Hughes

  • Underwater eyes, an eel's
  • Oil of water body, neither fish nor beast is the otter:
  • Four-legged yet water-gifted, to outfish fish;
  • With webbed feet and long ruddering tail
  • And a round head like an old tomcat.
  • Brings the legend of himself
  • From before wars or burials, in spite of hounds and vermin-poles;
  • Does not take root like the badger. Wanders, cries;
  • Gallops along land he no longer belongs to;
  • Re-enters the water by melting.
  • Of neither water nor land. Seeking
  • Some world lost when first he dived, that he cannot come at since,
  • Takes his changed body into the holes of lakes;
  • As if blind, cleaves the stream's push till he licks
  • The pebbles of the source; from sea
  • To sea crosses in three nights
  • Like a king in hiding. Crying to the old shape of the starlit land,
  • Over sunken farms where the bats go round,
  • Without answer. Till light and birdsong come
  • Walloping up roads with the milk wagon.
  • The hunt's lost him. Pads on mud,
  • Among sedges, nostrils a surface bead,
  • The otter remains, hours. The air,
  • Circling the globe, tainted and necessary,
  • Mingling tobacco-smoke, hounds and parsley,
  • Comes carefully to the sunk lungs.
  • So the self under the eye lies,
  • Attendant and withdrawn. The otter belongs
  • In double robbery and concealment --
  • From water that nourishes and drowns, and from land
  • That gave him his length and the mouth of the hound.
  • He keeps fat in the limpid integument
  • Reflections live on. The heart beats thick,
  • Big trout muscle out of the dead cold;
  • Blood is the belly of logic; he will lick
  • The fishbone bare. And can take stolen hold
  • On a bitch otter in a field full
  • Of nervous horses, but linger nowhere.
  • Yanked above hounds, reverts to nothing at all,
  • To this long pelt over the back of a chair.
  • The Otter Woman

    Mary O'Malley, 1995

  • He never asked why she always walked
  • By the shore, what she craved
  • Why she never cried when every wave
  • Crescendoed like an orchestra of bones.
  • She stood again on the low bridge
  • The night of the full moon.
  • One sweet, deep breath and she slipped in
  • Where the river fills the sea.
  • She saw him clearly in the street light -- his puzzlement.
  • Rid of him she let out one low, strange cry. . .