A caterpillar rests upon a twig,
With no intent to conquer earth or sky;
He merely wants to eat until he’s big
Enough to turn into a butterfly —
And on that day, he’ll think of flying high.
No soaring, tragic thoughts he entertains,
No hearty lust for trouble or for war;
He knows these things are never worth the pains
That could be spent on eating more and more —
At least until the time he’s waiting for.
But, though he marches on his abdomen,
His principles stand high as mountain-crests:
He never deals to insects or to men
The interference he himself detests —
And hopes, in turn, to labour free of pests.
Two mangy wasps fly over with a whine,
One large and strong, the other lean and smart,
Our munching caterpillar to malign —
Who, though he has the muscle, lacks the heart
To shed his courtesy with an upstart.
The big wasp buzzes, in a righteous rage:
“Look how you eat with privilege and style!
“And yet your kind, though in another age,
“Ate my kind’s food, and drove them to exile” —
With that, she stings him hard with venom vile.
Before our green friend can retaliate,
The thin wasp starts up a loquacious drone:
He cries: “My friend, not violence but debate
“Befits those high ideals that are your own;
“A herbivore, when guilty, should atone.”
So our friend speaks with reason, truth and skill,
Refutes the she-wasp’s false and arrant tale,
And hopes that now they’ll leave him eat his fill;
But, cries the wasp, “Mere facts cannot avail,”
“When love and justice lie upon the scale.”
On principle, our caterpillar leaves
Things to a vote; which, carried two to one,
Resolves that all his ancestors were thieves,
And orders him a penance that, when done,
Might exculpate this perpetrator’s son.
He lets the wasps lay eggs in his insides,
And then goes back to forage and ingest;
His hard work for the waspling-eggs provides,
But still he won’t expel them from their nest:
“When one makes gains, he profits all the rest”.
In time they grow to almost half his weight,
And dragging them around is quite a chore;
But still compassion gives no way to hate:
He minds not for the body, just the maw —
“Too much control brings danger to our door”.
But then they start to eat him from inside,
An outcome he’d neglected to foretell;
Though saddened at their lack of civic pride,
He reckons all things will be just as well
As long as he preserves his empty shell.
At last they burst forth from his hollowed hide —
Emancipated larvae in array;
We might expect our friend dissatisfied:
His food purloined and insides chewed away,
He’ll never see his glorious dreamed-of day.
But our green friend, though empty, fills with bliss
To see adopted children come to birth;
It’s true he dreamed of other things than this,
But don’t we all, before brought back to earth
By family values and their simple worth?
And thus he guards the offspring of his bowels:
Protects them first in thick cocoons of string;
Then roundabout the little wasplings prowls,
To fall with rage on any hostile thing,
Until he starves to death — and they take wing.
A caterpillar lies upon the mud,
Who never showed a housefly-maggot’s pluck
Against whoever came to suck his blood,
Then meekly shouldered all of his ill luck;
The word for such a creature — is a cuck.
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