River Tivy [Teifi] Beavers, Song 6, ll. 56-86
The beavers of the river Teifi in Wales were described by the scholar Gerald of Wales in the late twelfth century. Drayton’s description of the beaver and its habits is based on Gerald’s account, but adds additional wonderful qualities, such as the beaver’s using its tail as a sail. In Gerald, the beaver who serves as a loaded sled for the others is described as a “slave,” but Drayton depicts a more cooperative animal society. Drayton is mistaken in supposing that the Teifi supported Britain’s only beaver colony. Beavers were still to be found in Scotland in the sixteenth century, though by Drayton’s time they had been hunted to extinction throughout Britain.
Beavers were reintroduced in Scotland early in the twenty-first century, and have begun to breed in the wild. There are now plans to reintroduce the Eurasian Beaver to Wales, for the first time in 800 years.
More famous long ago than for the salmon’s leap
For beavers Tivy was, in her strong banks that bred,
Which else no other brook of Britain nourished;
Where nature, in the shape of this now-perished beast
His property did seem t’have wondrously expressed:
Being bodied like a boat, with such a mighty tail
As served him for a bridge, a helm, or for a sail,
When kind did him command the architect to play,
That his strong castle built of branched twigs and clay:
Which, set upon the deep, but yet not fixed there,
He easily could remove as it he pleased to stir
To this side or to that, the workmanship so rare.
His stuff wherewith to build, first being to prepare,
A foraging he goes, to groves or bushes nigh,
And with his teeth cuts down his timber, which laid by,
He turns him on his back, his belly laid abroad,
When with what he has got, the other do him load,
Till lastly by the weight, his burden he have found.
Then, with his mighty tail his carriage having bound
As carters do with ropes, in his sharp teeth he gripped
Some stronger stick, from which the lesser branches stripped,
He takes it in the midst; at both the ends, the rest
Hard holding with their fangs, unto the labour pressed,
Going backward, towards their home their loaded carriage led,
From whom, those first here borne, were taught the useful sled.
Then builded he his Fort with strong and several fights;
His passages contrived with such unusual sleights,
That from the hunter oft he issued undiscerned,
As if men from this beast to fortify had learned;
Whose kind, in her decayed, is to this isle unknown.
Thus Tivy boasts this beast peculiarly her own.