by Michael Woods
As a result of extinction, the elephant can only be spoken about in terms of a legend.
Here, Duffy turns her attention to an ecological concern. As in 'Ape', the previous poem in The Other Country, she explores the importance of preserving all animal species. The fact that the elephant's habitat, behaviour, stature, and physical characteristics have to be reconstructed through conjecture emphasises that the poet is, perhaps, considering a time quite some way into the future. On the other hand, we have seen evidence of how species can be wiped out alarmingly quickly.
The first stanza presents the habitat of the elephant as being a thing of the past. It lived 'on the flipside of the sun where the forests were.' Despite its huge 'seven tons' it had 'shy, old eyes' and it 'Walked in placid herds.' Unlike the humans who may have hunted it to extinction, it was benign. The pathos of the elephant's imagined demise is encapsulated in the final stanza where its extinction is afforded cosmic importance:
'You know some say it had a trunk
like a soft telescope, that it looked up along it at the sky
and balanced a bright, gone star on the end, and it died.'