Read the poem “Bedtime Story” by George Macbeth (1963). Once you’re done reading, answer the questions about the poem at the bottom of this page, supporting your responses with examples from the poem itself (a sentence or two for each question will be fine).
You will need to use your inferential skills to understand this poem: again, this means drawing a conclusion about what you don’t know based upon an examination of what you do know.
The “answers” are all here in the poem itself, but they are not always explicit, meaning you will have to look at what details, descriptions, ideas are presented here and then infer what’s happening/being explored based upon that.
(By the way: I will be able to tell if you plagiarize from the Internet on this assignment. Trust me!)
by George Macbeth (1963)
Long, long ago, when the world was a wild place
Planted with bushes and peopled by apes, our
Mission Brigade was at work in the jungle.
Hard by the Congo
Once, when a foraging detail was active
Scouting for green-fly, it came on a grey man, the
Last living man, in the branch of a baobab
Stalking a monkey
Earlier men had disposed of, for pleasure
Creatures whose names we scarcely remember
Zebra, Rhinoceros, elephants, wart-hog,
Lion, rats, deer, But
After the wars had extinguished the cities
Only the wild ones were left half-naked
Near the Equator: and here was the last one,
Starved for a monkey.
By then the Mission Brigade had encountered
Hundreds of such men: and their procedure.
History tells us, was only to feed them:
Find them and feed them:
Those were the orders. And this was the last one
Nobody knew that he was, But he was, Mud
Caked on his flat grey flanks. He was crouched, half-
Armed with a shaved spear
Glinting between broad leaves, When their jaws cut
Swathes through the bark and he saw fine teeth shine,
Round eyes roll round and forked arms waver
Huge as the rough trunks
Over his head, he was frightened. Our workers
Marched through the Congo before he was born, but
This was the first time perhaps that he’s seen one.
Starting in hot still silence, he crouched there: then jumped.
With a long swing
Down from his branch, he had angled his spear too
Quickly, before they could hold him, and hurled it
Hard at the soldier leading the detail.
How could he know the Queen’s
Orders were only to help him?
The soldier winced when the tipped spear pricked him.
Unsheathing his sting was a reflex.
Later the Queen was informed. There were no more
Men. An impetuous soldier had killed off,
Purely by chance, the penultimate primate.
When she was certain
Squadrons of workers were fanned through the Congo
Detailed to bring back the man’s picked bones to be
Sealed in the archives in amber. I’m quite sure
Nobody found them
After the most industrious search, though.
Where had the bones gone? Over the earth, dear.
Ground by the teeth of the termites, blown by the
Wind, like the dodo
When does this poem take place? How do you know?
What is happening in this poem? Provide a brief (1-2 sentence) summary.
What do the members of the “Mission Brigade” look like? How do you know?
What is the significance of the poem’s title? The last line?
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