“You can’t teach a rhinoceros tricks”


“You can’t teach a rhinoceros tricks,” he had explained in his brief and vigorous style.
Brave New World

You can’t teach a rhinoceros tricks
You can’t teach her to play dead or dance
Though you whip or reward her, malign or implore her,
She won’t fetch, beg, speak or shake hands.

You can’t teach a rhinoceros tricks
Not because she’s not worthy or fun
The rhinoceros goes where she wants to go
And will do what she always has done.

Try to teach a rhinoceros tricks
The results uniformly are gruesome
And the worst thing of all is, it’s quite possible
It may end up with her teaching you some.


Image: Rhinoceros (1515) by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). This image is well out of copyright protection, from its sheer age. It’s remarkable because of its remarkableness, of course, and for its history, but also because Dürer–who had never seen, and never did see, a rhinoceros–was working from a description and rough sketch of an animal which, having embarked for Rome as an intended gift from the King of Portugal to Pope Leo X, perished in a shipwreck off the coast of Italy and never arrived.

Here is a more realistic painting of a rhinoceros, entitled Clara le Rhinoceros (1749), executed by an artist (Jean-Baptiste Oudry) who had actually seen the animal he portrayed — one Clara the Rhinoceros, a female Indian rhinoceros who became famous when she toured Europe (presumably she was appropriately chaperoned) between 1741 and 1758. This image, too, is unprotected by copyright in the United States.


Finally, should you wish to track it to its lair, the quotation from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World appears in part 1 of chapter 6 (Perennial Classics 1998 ed. at 88).

2 thoughts on ““You can’t teach a rhinoceros tricks”

  1. If I assume correctly — that the Huxley quotation is the title of this and not the poem — then this is a marvellous piece, quite worthy of Belloc, Eliot or any of those other witty masters of light verse that fill anthologies with their semi-precious gems. Brilliant. And fascinating backstories for the illustrations too.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s