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Issue 271
March/April 2012
Animals: A New Ethics

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Whale Song
© Scott Portelli

© Scott Portelli

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Whale Song

Extracts from the book-length poem Whale Nation by Heathcote Williams - a poem that honours the beauty, intelligence and majesty of the largest mammal on Earth.

From space, the planet is blue.

From space, the planet is the territory

Not of humans, but of the whale.

Blue seas cover seven-tenths of the of the earth’s surface,

And are the domain of the largest brain ever created,

With a fifty-million-year-old smile.

Ancient, unknown mammals left the land

In search of food or sanctuary,

And walked into the water.

Their arms and hands changed into water-wings;

Their tails turned into boomerang-shaped tail-flukes,

Enabling them to fly, almost weightless, through the oceans;

Their hind-legs disappeared, buried deep within their flanks.

Free from land-based pressures:

Free from droughts, earthquakes, ice-ages, volcanoes, famine,

Larger brains evolved, ten times as old as man’s…

Other creatures, with a larger cerebral cortex…

Whale families, whale tribes,

All have different songs:

An acoustic picture-language,

Spirited pulses relayed through water

At five times the speed sounds travels through air,

Varied enough to express complex emotions,

Cultural details,



A sense of the unknown.

A lone Humpback may put on a solo concert lasting for days.

Within a Humpback’s half-hour song

There are a hundred million bytes.

A million changes of frequency,

And a million tonal twists…

An Odyssey, as information-packed as Homer’s,

Can be told in thirty minutes;

Fifty-million-year-old sagas of continuous whale mind:

Accounts of the forces of nature;

The minutiae of a shared consciousness;

Whale dreams;

The accumulated knowledge of the past;

Rumours of ancestors, the Archaeoceti,

With life-spans of two and three hundred years;

Memories of loss;

Memories of ideal love;

Memories of meetings…

Heathcote Williams is a poet, actor and award-winning playwright.