A Poet Remembers Lonesome George, Giant Tortoise and 'Emblem of Despair'

More

X.J. Kennedy, who wrote a poem in honor of the 100-year-old reptile, calls his death this weekend a "personal loss."

smith_lonesomegeorge_post.jpg
Reuters

Lonesome George, the Pinta Island giant tortoise thought to be the last of his subspecies, died Sunday in his Galápagos Island home. Scientists estimate that he was over 100—middle-aged for a tortoise whose brethren are known to live to up to 200.

Since he was discovered in the wild in 1972, the famous bachelor was visited by a steady stream of researchers, tourists, and journalists, and became a beloved international symbol of conservation. He was also a constant source of anxiety for the scientists who tried to find a suitable female to make George lonesome no more. Over the years, several female tortoises of related subspecies lived with George. Two of them eventually produced eggs, but none hatched.

In May of last year, the poet X. J. Kennedy and his wife, Dorothy, visited Lonesome George. The day was blazing hot and they themselves were feeling, in Kennedy's words, "as sluggish as tortoises." Though George was not alone in his pen at the Darwin Research Station—he had three lumbering four-foot-long female companions—he might as well have been. Kennedy was told that the keepers hoped the females might rouse George "to action, but he was paying them no mind." George wasn't paying much mind to his visitors either, though he did cast them "one disinterested glance" before going back to his lunch of cactus leaves.

Kennedy's visit that day, and Lonesome George's haunting plight, inspired the poem "Lonesome George," which appeared in the June 2012 Atlantic. "Dead-ending male, lone emblem of despair," the poem reads, "he slumps on his knees, his tail antennaing the air."

With the news of George's death, Kennedy said he feels "a sense of personal loss." He also feels a connection to the now-extinct tortoise. "As a writer given to the old formalities of rhyme and meter, I sometimes feel endangered these days. But I'm glad that, unlike poor old George, whose line has come to a dead end, rhymed lines and printed books go on, in slightly better health."

Jump to comments
Presented by

Eleanor Smith is an Atlantic senior associate editor.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

This Short Film Skewers Hollywood, Probably Predicts Disney's Next Hit

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

How Will Climate Change Affect Cities?

Urban planners and environmentalists predict the future of city life.

Video

The Inner Life of a Drag Queen

A short documentary about cross-dressing, masculinity, identity, and performance

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

Just In