The Devil's Dictionary: Tortoise

Updated May 14, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
by Ambrose Bierce



A creature thoughtfully created to supply occasion for the following lines by the illustrious Ambat Delaso:

My friend, you are not graceful — not at all;
Your gait's between a stagger and a sprawl.
Nor are you beautiful: your head's a snake's
To look at, and I do not doubt it aches.
As to your feet, they'd make an angel weep.
'Tis true you take them in whene'er you sleep.
No, you're not pretty, but you have, I own,
A certain firmness — mostly you're [sic] backbone.
Firmness and strength (you have a giant's thews)
Are virtues that the great know how to use —
I wish that they did not; yet, on the whole,
You lack — excuse my mentioning it — Soul.
So, to be candid, unreserved and true,
I'd rather you were I than I were you.
Perhaps, however, in a time to be,
When Man's extinct, a better world may see
Your progeny in power and control,
Due to the genesis and growth of Soul.
So I salute you as a reptile grand
Predestined to regenerate the land.
Father of Possibilities, O deign
To accept the homage of a dying reign!
In the far region of the unforeknown
I dream a tortoise upon every throne.
I see an Emperor his head withdraw
Into his carapace for fear of Law;
A King who carries something else than fat,
Howe'er acceptably he carries that;
A President not strenuously bent
On punishment of audible dissent —
Who never shot (it were a vain attack)
An armed or unarmed tortoise in the back;
Subject and citizens that feel no need
To make the March of Mind a wild stampede;
All progress slow, contemplative, sedate,
And "Take your time" the word, in Church and State.
O Tortoise, 'tis a happy, happy dream,
My glorious testudinous regime!
I wish in Eden you'd brought this about
By slouching in and chasing Adam out.
Sources +