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Poem by Robert William Service


I never kill a fly because
I think that what we have of laws
To regulate and civilize
Our daily life; we owe to flies.

Apropos, I'll tell you of Choo, the spouse
Of the head of the hunters, Wung;
Such a beautiful cave they had for a house,
And a brood of a dozen young.
And Wung would start by the dawn's red light
On the trailing of bird or beast,
And crawl back tired on the brink of night
With food for another feast.

Then the young would dance in their naked glee,
And Choo would fuel the fire;
Fur and feather, how good to see,
And to gorge to heart's desire!
Flesh of rabbit and goose and deer,
With fang-like teeth they tore,
And laughed with faces a bloody smear,
And flung their bones on the floor.

But with morning bright the flies would come,
Clouding into the cave;
You could hardly hear for their noisy hum,
They were big and black and brave.
Darkling the day with gust of greed
They'd swarm in the warm sunrise
On the litter of offal and bones to feed -
A million or so of flies.

Now flies were the wife of Wung's despair;
They would sting and buzz and bite,
And as her only attire was hair
She would itch from morn to night:
But as one day she scratched her hide,
A thought there came to Choo;
"If I were to throw the bones outside,
The flies would go there too."

That spark in a well-nigh monkey mind,
Nay, do not laugh or scorn;
For there in the thoughts of Choo you'll find
Was the sense of Order born;
As she flung the offal far and wide,
And the fly-cloud followed fast,
Battening on the bones outside
The cave was clear at last.

And Wung was pleased when he came at night,
For the air was clean and sweet,
And the cave-kids danced in the gay firelight,
And fed on the new-killed meat;
But the children Choo would chide and boss,
For her cleanly floor was her pride,
And even the baby was taught to toss
His bite of a bone outside.

Then the cave crones came and some admired,
But others were envious;
And they said: "She swanks, she makes us tired
With her complex modern fuss."
However, most of the tribe complied,
Though tradition dourly dies,
And a few Conservatives crossly cried:
"We'll keep our bones and our flies."

So Reformer Choo was much revered
And to all she said: "You see
How my hearth is clean and my floor is cleaned,
And there ain't no flies on me"...
And that was how it all began,
Through horror of muck and mess,
Even in prehistoric Man,

And that is why I never kill
A fly, no matter how obscene;
For I believe in God's good will:
He gave us vermin to make us clean.

Robert William Service

Robert William Service's other poems:
  1. The Wee Shop
  2. The Sum-Up
  3. Resolutions
  4. The Robbers
  5. Pedlar

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