Following the bear
Calling all poets

Embracing the bear

Photograph by Katerina Plotnikova

I've long used the term "embracing the bear" for those moments when I'm moving forward into something I fear, but don't want fear to stop me; thus I was intrigued to encounter the same phrase in Terry Tempest William's An Unspoken Hunger, where it has a slightly different, but related, meaning. In a gorgeous little essay on women and bears, Williams includes a description of Marian Engle 's Bear, a highly unsual, memorable novel which portrays a woman and a bear "in an erotics of place":

"It doesn't matter whether the bear is seen as male or female," says Williams. "The relationship between the two is sensual,Victorian illustration, artist unknown wild.

"The woman says, 'Bear, take me to the bottom of the ocean with you, Bear, swim with me, Bear, put your arms around me, enclose me, swim, down, down, down, with me.'

" 'Bear,' she says suddenly, 'come dance with me.'

"They make love. Afterwards, 'She felt pain, but it was a dear sweet pain that belonged not to mental suffering, but to the earth.'

William writes that she, too, "has felt the pain that arises from a recognition of beauty, pain we hold when we remember what we are connected to and the delicacy of our relations. It is this tenderness born out of connection to place that Black bear, artist unknown copyfuels my writing. Writing becomes an act of compassion toward life, the life we often refuse to see because if we look too closely or feel too deeply, there may be no end to our suffering. But words empower us, move us beyond our suffering, and set us free. This is the sorcery of literature. We are healed by our stories.

"By undressing, exposing, and embracing the bear, we undress, expose, and embrace our authentic selves. Stripped free from society's oughts and shoulds, we emerge as emancipated beings. The bear is free to roam."

Photograph by Katerina Plotnikova

"We are creatures of paradox, women and bears, two animals that are enormously unpredictable, hence our mystery," Williams continues. "Perhaps the fear of bears and the fear of women lies in our refusal to be tamed, the impulses we arouse and the forces we represent....As women connected to the earth, we are nurturing and we are fierce, we are wicked and we are sublime. The full range is ours. We hold the moon in our bellies and fire in our hearts. We bleed. We give milk. We are the mothers of first words. These words grow. They are our children. They are our stories and our poems."

Photograph by Katerina Plotnikova

The sublime images above are by the Russian surrealist photographer Katerina Plotnikova, based in Moscow. The pen-and-ink drawings are Victorian illustrations, artists unknown.

Other recommended bear fiction, in addition to Bear by Marion Engle: The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman (the woman-bear relationship in this book completely slays me), Her Frozen Wild by Kim Antieau, "Bear's Bride" by Johanna Sinisalo (in The Beastly Bride), "The Brown Bear of Norway" by Isobel Cole (in Black Thorn White Rose), Tender Morsals by Margo Lanagan, East by Edith Pattou,  Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede, and Ice by Sarah Beth Durst. There's also a magical story tucked into the stanzas of Theodora Goss's poem, "The Bear's Daughter," and a very beautiful children's book by Jackie Morris, The Ice Bear. Others?


In keeping with the Ursine theme; I definitely will be a 'bear with a soar head' today because it's my birthday and I'm going out with the family to enjoy a lunchtime aperitif or ten.

East of the Sun, West of the Moon. x

Have a thoroughly wonderful birthday, Stuart!

Indeed. Do you have a favorite published version of this?

I wrote a story called "The Woman who Loved a Bear," published in the anthology Tales of the Great Turtle and later republished in my collection Once Upon A Time (She said.) It's based on an old Native American story but I think goes back to Beauty and the Beast as well.

Animal brides, which you--Terri--have written quite a bit about, form the ground base for such stories.


I loved that story! Thanks for reminding me of it.

And now I'm reminded of Lisa Goldstein's story "Brother Bear," in the fairy tale anthology Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears. It, too, is based on Native American bear tales.

Embracing the Bear

He smells like wet wool, like meat,
like winter in a cave,
like the tail-end of a long sleep,
like unbrushed teeth,
lke armpits and crotch,
like sex in unwashed bed linen,
like the second time that night.

When he stands on his hind legs,
knee deep in bracken to embrace me,
he is so like a man, he breaks the spell.
I'd rather the bear, belly to the ground,
than this poor imitation, this ghosting
of my husband who left me eight years ago
to marry death.

©2014 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Lovely. I like your phrase which one might also read as "embracing the bare", baring the soul instead of keeping it blanketed under buffering protections. And adding to your collection, see also Theodora Goss's short story "Sleeping With Bears":

You've gutted me with this one. Lordy.

Ah yes, Dora's story. Of course!

And more bear poems, based on the Snow White and Rose Red faitry tale:

"An Embroidery" by Denise Levertov,

"Rose Red" by Erin Belieu,
(scroll down to find it)

Rose Red to Snow White by Joan Colby,

"Rose Red" by Cory-Ellen Nadel,

it didn't exactly go where I expected it to, but am glad it did.

And I can always count on you for a real and powerful response, Terri.

(And yes, I see the typo, which I have fixed elsewhere.)


Can I add my 'The Bear Outside' to that list? I have so much to say about bears and so little time in which to say it, today or yesterday. Ach. Bears stand over almost all the work I do, word-based or not. I also recommend 'The Bear: History of a Fallen King' - non-fiction, but a wonderful read about the place of the Bear in the European psyche...

Thank you, Terri. And I've just noticed my odd spelling of 'Soar' instead of 'sore' in my comment. My only excuse is that the Soar is the name of the local river that runs through Leicester, and is Celtic meaning something like 'clear' or 'clear running', I think. The irony of which, were you ever to see Leicester, would become abundantly obvious!

Anyway, after the ten or so birthday aperitifs I will now sign off and take my very sore/soar head to bed.

Of course you can, Tom! I should have remembered it in the first place. I haven't read The Bear: History of a Fallen King -- I'll put it on my reading list. See you & Rima at the pub on Tuesday...

I Love the white bears in Philip Pullman's "The Golden Compass." Wild, wise and brave. AndI am now
addicted to Plotnikova's beautiful mysterious photos and paintings and share them with my friends
who admire the mythic.

What a wonderful wealth of bears. A treasure trove. My pile of to-read grows with delight.

There is also Robert Frost's "The Bear:"

The world has room to make a bear feel free;
The universe seems cramped to you and me.
Man acts more like the poor bear in a cage,"

Perhaps not what you were thinking of, but there's Bearskin, the Grimm version, and another by Henriette-Julie de Marat collected by Marina Warner in Wonder Tales.

I love Bearskin!

I was just thinking of Bear this morning, how I call in the her in my center when I am afraid, when my energy is low, when I need to be held by a part of myself that is big and wild and rooting. Then, out of nowhere in my mind, the bear comes, and I feel at home.

I wrote a tale a while back called "Else This, Nothing Ever Grows," a retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, one of my favorite tales... because I was just so drawn to this love between girl and, in this tale, grizzly bear in old gold rush California... Here it is!

Thank you for these bear posts Terri, uncanny how timely they feel. & winter blessings. XO

At last I have a moment to thank you you for this powerful poem. And I appreciate all
who follow what the poem wants without any interference. Joy Harjo wrote, " When it
comes, get out of the way." Not accurate but true.

I have always been absolutely unreasonably terrified of bears and I've always has a suspicion that it's about unleashing that true nature in me, so what you've written rings very, very true for me. Maybe it's time.

Thanks--your reply came when I most needed it, a difficult, tiring day


Thank you for such a well-timed post. Recognition of our creative rhythms is so important and necessary. Learning to respect them...that is a journey unto itself.

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