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The First Animal Rights Poem?

Written by PETA | April 23, 2010

Picture this: It’s 1773 and the young poet Anna Barbauld is working as an assistant in the laboratory of vivisector Joseph Priestley. In order to study breathing, Priestley tormented live mice, and he did it without giving them any anesthetic (as vivisectors today still do in many cases).


Aaron Logan / CC by 1.0
Mice in Lab


One night, Priestley left his next victim—a mouse who would be put into a “breathing tank” (read: “suffocation tank”) that would be pumped empty of oxygen—in a cage on his desk. Anna was so moved by the sight of this doomed animal that she penned a poem from the mouse’s point of view, folded up the paper, and stuck it between the bars of the cage for Priestley to find in the morning. No one knows if it moved him at all.

For here forlorn and sad I sit,
Within the wiry grate;
And tremble at th’ approaching morn,
Which brings impending fate.

The well taught philosophic mind
To all compassion gives;
Cast’s round the world an equal eye,
And feels for all that lives.

The mouse’s plea for life and liberty is so touching that actor Anne Bobby actually broke down while reading the poem on the air for NPR. Luckily for the rhyming couplet–challenged, you don’t have to be Shakespeare to make a powerful case for animal rights. You can do it in a letter to the editor, a letter to your legislators, or even in 140 characters or less.

Written by Lindsay Pollard-Post

Commenting is closed.
  • kelly x says:

    animal testing shouldnt be allowed theres already so many products in the shops theres no need for anymore just to torture living creatures dont forget we are living creatures too and we wouldnt like it if we got bleach put in our eyes and stuff its all about people making money and its out of order if there benefiting from animals pain and suffering they should suffer too let them test it on themselves and see how they like it !!!!!!!!!!!!! x

  • Jenny says:

    yes why not? instead of writing depressing poems about love or feelings or what not we should write poems for animals P

  • Ankita says:

    aww…i will write a poem too for animals…what a dimwit I’ve been writing emopoems all this time!

  • Alexis says:

    That’s beautiful!!

  • Jahiegel says:

    Priestley one of his era’s true polymaths was a great exponent of political and religious liberty and IIRC he was not unequivocal in his support of testing on nonhuman animals that his feelings were mixed though is one recognizes of little comfort to the animals on whom he experimented and one is left to regret that a man of Priestley’s capabilities and sensibilities could not bring to bear his discursive talents in the cause of liberty for all not just those of his species.

  • Toby says:

    So I’m guessing Barbauld was more interested in ethics than religion. Good for her! We need more of that!!! NPR is awesome by the way.