The King of Beasts (CP 3:138) is not the most “poetic” poem, but it makes a solid point, and it is probably one of the better examples of Inhumanism as advocacy for animal welfare (as Thomas Hardy might have conceived that genre). This short poem presents a dark indictment of humanity that links its cruelty to animals to its cruelty toward its own.
Not the most poetic, that is, but not lacking in poetry. There is a twist of angst to it, a knife-twist if you will, that a similar piece, Memoir (Such Counsels You Gave to Me and Other Poems), lacks. In this poem, Jeffers muses that, considering all of the terror that man inflicts upon other animals, it is quite “just and decent” that he should commit horrors upon his own kind. This is a startlingly anti-chauvinist statement, arguably militant in tone. The poem will certainly be too dark for the likings of many, but I think the gravity of the reality of human cruelty calls for such angrily honest poems.
I am so struck with the gravity of the assessment “it is just and decent” that I have at times been disappointed the poem doesn’t end with it, but instead ends with a prediction. The prediction is presented modestly, though, and I think can been taken as more of an assessment of human nature than a prophecy.
The King of Beasts has not yet been anthologized.
@1991 Stanford University Press. Limited preview provided by Google Books.