Hey, look at this, a nature poem! I didn’t think he had it in him.
It’s all pretty straightforward and descriptive, except clearly we’re meant to see the rabbit and the bull as symbols. If there’s any doubt, B.’s conscience, or Death, or Death in blackface, whoever he is, chimes in on the last line and reminds us as much: “We all brutes & fools.” The bull in Zaragoza, brave as a demon, didn’t charge. And why not? “Being willing not to die” is an excellent reason. Bullfighters goad the animal past its natural sense of self-preservation so that in its rage it gets worn down, and then the sword does its work, that thing which rage is not pointed enough nor impervious enough to withstand. The bull always goes down once he attacks. The rabbit is different, but with the same inbred sense of preservation—ears listening, round eyes alert. So why is the rabbit a fraud? A fraud like the bull was a fraud? “Fraud” here strikes me as an ironic pronouncement that means something like “too improperly possessed of courage.” The bull attacks out of rage, terror and desperation—not courage. The self-possessed bull, the bull of unusual perception and courage chooses to hang back because it’s the wiser course, but it also makes him a fraud as far as run-of-the-mill bulls go, who can be counted on to charge away. The rabbit, nature’s number one prey item, the creature whose lifeless meat everybody else loves to eat, hops and munches around the lawn, in full sight of people he should be afraid of. Except, he has enough acuity, rabbitly-speaking, to know that the poet chatting with his wife on the porch is not a danger. His ability to assess the situation and not give in to his animal proclivities makes him special and “fraudulent”—more than should be expected from a typical rabbit.
Here’s why this matters: Nuclear attacks (for example) are prompted out of fear, or a pre-emptive aggression that is still born of fear. Probably other broad societal neuroses as well, all of them contemptible if they lead to suicidal global warfare. “Fraudulent courage” holds back, the wiser and nobler course, but also a freak. Rabbits should run out of fear, bulls attack out of fear, humans launch rockets out of fear. Adopt another course of action and you’re a “fraud,” species-wise B. appears to be saying.
This would be harder to see out of context. These Dream Songs are not presented in the order they were written. I don’t discern a broad pattern or structure unfolding yet (although certain themes are of course present throughout), and there is professional disagreement even at the most esoteric scholarly level over whether they organize into an overall structure, but it’s also quite clear they are often clumped in groups of 3 or 4 around similar themes. This one following from the one yesterday about the Cuban Missile Crisis makes its meaning resonate beyond the poem itself, gives the symbols an extra vibe. If it’s true we’re all brutes and fools, then it’s no wonder we almost dialed it in out of foolish brutishness. Ultimately, on this one (and thank God for it), the frauds prevailed.
Call me a fraud and I’ll buy you a beer.