A Sense of Wonder at the Zoo

Ernest Shepard, "At the Zoo"

Ernest Shepard, “At the Zoo”

Julia and I took our three-year-old grandson to the National Zoo this past Tuesday and, like Christopher Robin, he wanted to see elephants. Given changing zoo regulations since A. A. Milne’s time, however, he was not allowed to feed them buns.

Reading Milne’s poem from a grandparent’s point of view, I recognize the pure delight that the poet experiences as he watches Christopher Robin interact with the animals. These “expotitions” (to use another Christopher Robin word) are invaluable. Alban may always remember watching the African elephant spray dirt on itself and the Asian elephant catch water in its trunk from a hose. I myself was taken back to a visit I made at 11 to the Paris zoo where I fed the elephants peanuts (again, no longer allowed).

This is a benefit of having children and then grandchildren. You get to return to your own childhood sense of wonder.

Here’s Milne’s poem:

At the Zoo

There are lions and roaring tigers,
and enormous camels and things,
There are biffalo-buffalo-bisons,
and a great big bear with wings.
There’s a sort of a tiny potamus,
and a tiny nosserus too –
But I gave buns to the elephant
when I went down to the Zoo!

There are badgers and bidgers and bodgers,
and a Super-in-tendent’s House,
There are masses of goats, and a Polar,
and different kinds of mouse,
And I think there’s a sort of a something
which is called a wallaboo –
But I gave buns to the elephant
when I went down to the Zoo!

If you try to talk to the bison,
he never quite understands;
You can’t shake hands with a mingo –
he doesn’t like shaking hands.
And lions and roaring tigers
hate saying, “How do you do?” –
But I give buns to the elephant
when I go down to the Zoo!

I’ll add that Alban, like Christopher Robin, was similarly unimpressed with the bison. The seals, otters, and gorillas were more to his liking. The elephants, however, carried the day.

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