José Emilio Pacheco: “I Saw a Dying Fish”

  • Randy Malamud


An Ark for the Next Millennium is the title of Margaret Sayers Peden’s 1993 translation of José Emilio Pacheco’s poems originally published as Album de zoologta (1985). Her edition, the text I shall discuss here, presents nearly 80 poems, each featuring a specific animal, divided into sections representing the elements that the animals inhabit: water, air, earth, and fire. The lyric subjects include, for example, crabs, fish, octopus, and whales in the realm of water; sparrows, owls, buzzards, mosquitoes, flies, bats, and moths in the air; monkeys, lions, horses, scorpions, boars, ants, and mice on earth; and a lone poem about a salamander, which mythically inhabits the flame, comprises the final section. Pacheco’s “ark” is certainly one of the richest poetic assemblies of animals ever created—throughout the course of my research on animals in literature, I have found no other poet who has engaged animals with as much determination and focus. Pacheco, as a Mexican poet, is geographically proximate to the Mesoamerican communities that embrace animal souls, although I see no explicit or intentional connection between his ideas about animals and theirs—it is only coincidental that Pacheco’s system of beliefs about people, animals, and their shared existence rivals the philosophical and ethical intricacy of animal souls.


Mexico City Forest Clear Ethical Intricacy Lyric Subject Intentional Connection 
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© Randy Malamud 2003

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  • Randy Malamud

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