Legend of the Two Wolves

The legend goes by many names and is oft recounted as "A Cherokee Legend" or as the story "Grandfather Tells" depending on who is sharing its wisdom. In all of its many variations, the legend is a short story of the inner fight we all face and the choice we must make in life. Scouter Roger Claff, National Capital Area Council, has set the legend into a poetic rendition which is reprinted below with permission.


The Cherokee elder began to speak
Of a legend told him long ago;
It was Cherokee wisdom shared by Creek,
Apache, Sioux, and Arapaho.

The elder told how when the land was new
And all men lived by the simple ways,
How having so little meant needs were few
So contentment reigned through all their days.

“And yet,” said he, “Now I will tell you son,”
As across his face a grimace forms,
“Theirs was a life not so easily won
Twixt quests for food and shelter from storms.”

“But the fiercest struggle a man can face
Takes place deep within his very soul;
There, buried deep inside that hidden place
Nature doth exact its truest toll.”

“For the fiercest wolves live within the soul;
Like demons they fight to win the man;
Destroy each other is their only goal;
The sole survivor howe’er they can.”

“One wolf is selfishness, envy, and hate,
Arrogant pride, self-pity and guilt;
Its loathing condemns the helpless to fate;
Lies, o’er blood of our fathers was spilt.”

“The other is kindness, friendship and peace,
Justice, compassion, patience, and love;
From truth the strength of its passions release,
Joyously free as blue sky above.”

I thought for a moment about this fight
As the elder sat back with a grin;
I wondered aloud, “If might should make right,
Which one of the wolves was bound to win?”

The elder then paused, I think for effect,
The flames flickered in front of his face;
His glance was piercing, his response direct,
Doubt of conviction absent a trace.

“My answer I urge you always to heed,
Sure as the morning sun in the east;
The wolf that wins is the one that you feed,
Your desires fuel the triumphant beast.”

In silence his words shot straight to my heart,
Wisdom so true I could not deny;
While offering thanks I rose to depart,
Hearing a voice, I could not say why.

As the years have gone by, often I speak
This legend told me so long ago;
It is Cherokee wisdom shared by Creek,
Apache, Sioux, and Arapaho.

The tale once told and reflections begun,
A nagging voice compels each to heed;
“Answer me this,” the voice troubles each one, 
“Which wolf is it you desire to feed?”

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