Despite the “literary turn” in moral philosophy, which was precipitated by the confluence of post-structural, postmodern currents in literature and a renewed interest in Aristotle’s virtue ethics in philosophy, the field of animal ethics has largely refrained from engaging with literature. Although the oeuvres of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell include numerous poems that feature animals, they remain relatively inconspicuous in animal ethics discourse, in part because their poems have often been assumed to use animals as figurations, rather than being about animals. This article rereads Bishop’s and Lowell’s animal poems through the lens of animal ethics. Through a close analysis of Bishop’s and Lowell’s animal poems ranging from “The Moose” and “The Swan” to “Trouvée” and “Turtle,” this essay examines how Bishop’s and Lowell’s animal poems speak to and about those animals with an awareness of, and deference to, their unknowability.

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