Poem Geek


And Every Dog Will Have His Poem…


 

Hey Poem Geeks! It may be true that the dog is man’s best friend. Certainly he is the poet’s best muse. Today we’re looking at Dog poetry through the ages. Not poetry written by dogs (Sorry Snoopy!) but poetry about dogs. We’ll start with a beautiful ode to a dog named Flush (hopelessly optimistic name for a dog in my opinion), by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Browning is most famous for writing heart-felt sonnets to her husband Robert Browning, but I think you’ll see that she has every bit the tender love for Flush as she has for old Robbie. So how do I  ruvv thee? Let me count the ways…

To Flush, My Dog by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Yet, my pretty sportive friend,

Little is’t to such an end
That I praise thy rareness!
Other dogs may be thy peers
Haply in these drooping ears,
And this glossy fairness.

But of thee it shall be said,
This dog watched beside a bed
Day and night unweary- 
Watched within a curtained room,
Where no sunbeam brake the gloom
Round the sick and dreary.

Roses, gathered for a vase,
In that chamber died apace,
Beam and breeze resigning.
This dog only, waited on,
Knowing that when light is gone
Love remains for shining.

Other dogs in thymy dew
Tracked the hares, and followed through
Sunny moor or meadow.
This dog only, crept and crept
Next a languid cheek that slept,
Sharing in the shadow.

Other dogs of loyal cheer
Bounded at the whistle clear,
Up the woodside hieing.
This dog only, watched in reach
Of a faintly uttered speech,
Or a louder sighing.

And if one or two quick tears
Dropped upon his glossy ears,
Or a sigh came double- 
Up he sprang in eager haste,
Fawning, fondling, breathing fast,
In a tender trouble.

And this dog was satisfied
If a pale thin hand would glide
Down his dewlaps sloping- 
Which he pushed his nose within,
After-platforming his chin
On the palm left open.

Where Browning is verbose as ever, the irrepressible Ogden Nash (who has something to say about every animal) is a bit more succinct about the incredible love of a Dog:

The Dog by Ogden Nash

The truth I do not stretch or shove
When I state that the dog is full of love.
I’ve also found, by actual test,
A wet dog is the lovingest.

The key to reading Robert Burn’s poetry written in the Scottish dialect is to sing it out loud as if you are drunk in an old pub, hanging on the shoulder of one of your buddies swinging a mug back and forth. You’ll find the words making much more sense that way. Is anyone watching? Once the coast is clear, try it! Go to the bathroom if you have to.

 The Rantin Dog, the Daddie o’t by Robert Burns

O WHA my babie-clouts will buy?
O wha will tent me when I cry?
Wha will kiss me where I lie?
The rantin’ dog, the daddie o’t.

O wha will own he did the faut?
O wha will buy the groanin maut?
O wha will tell me how to ca’t?
The rantin’ dog, the daddie o’t.

When I mount the creepie-chair,
Wha will sit beside me there?
Gie me Rob, I’ll seek nae mair,
The rantin’ dog, the daddie o’t.

Wha will crack to me my lane?
Wha will mak me fidgin’ fain?
Wha will kiss me o’er again?
The rantin’ dog, the daddie o’t.

Of course… there are two types of people: Dog people and poet Laureate Billy Collins.

Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep A Gun In The House by Billy Collins
 
 
  The neighbors’ dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.          

The neighbors’ dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,

and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.

When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
entreating him with his baton

while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius. 

Another favorite anti-dog poem of mine is this one by the noble Sir Walter Raleigh. There is a delicious zinger at the end, but it made the list because of its deadpanned title which if it is not meant to be mock-pretentious, is all the funnier.

To a Lady with an Unruly and Ill-mannered Dog Who Bit several Persons of Importance by Sir Walter Raleigh

Your dog is not a dog of grace; 
He does not wag the tail or beg;
He bit Miss Dickson in the face;
He bit a Bailie in the leg.

What tragic choices such a dog
Presents to visitor or friend!
Outside there is the Glasgow fog;
Within, a hydrophobic end.

Yet some relief even terror brings,
For when our life is cold and gray
We waste our strength on little things,
And fret our puny souls away.

A snarl! A scruffle round the room!
A sense that Death is drawing near!
And human creatures reassume
The elemental robe of fear.

So when my colleague makes his moan
Of careless cooks, and warts, and debt,
— Enlarge his views, restore his tone,
And introduce him to your Pet!

Then there is the death of a beloved dog. Nothing like the death of a loved animal to put one in an intense state of brooding. This beautiful poem by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda speaks of mortality, fondness of the familiar, and the value of a life well-lived. In my humble opinion, this poem alone was enough to win him his 1971 Nobel Prize in literature.

A Dog Has Died by Pablo Neruda

My dog has died.
I buried him in the garden
next to a rusted old machine.

Some day I’ll join him right there,
but now he’s gone with his shaggy coat,
his bad manners and his cold nose,
and I, the materialist, who never believed
in any promised heaven in the sky
for any human being,
I believe in a heaven I’ll never enter.
Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.

Ai, I’ll not speak of sadness here on earth,
of having lost a companion
who was never servile.
His friendship for me, like that of a porcupine
withholding its authority,
was the friendship of a star, aloof,
with no more intimacy than was called for,
with no exaggerations:
he never climbed all over my clothes
filling me full of his hair or his mange,
he never rubbed up against my knee
like other dogs obsessed with sex.

No, my dog used to gaze at me,
paying me the attention I need,
the attention required
to make a vain person like me understand
that, being a dog, he was wasting time,
but, with those eyes so much purer than mine,
he’d keep on gazing at me
with a look that reserved for me alone
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing.

Ai, how many times have I envied his tail
as we walked together on the shores of the sea
in the lonely winter of Isla Negra
where the wintering birds filled the sky
and my hairy dog was jumping about
full of the voltage of the sea’s movement:
my wandering dog, sniffing away
with his golden tail held high,
face to face with the ocean’s spray.

Joyful, joyful, joyful,
as only dogs know how to be happy
with only the autonomy
of their shameless spirit.

There are no good-byes for my dog who has died,
and we don’t now and never did lie to each other.

So now he’s gone and I buried him,
and that’s all there is to it.

Wow, Powerful stuff! So your challenge for the day: write a poem about your beloved animal. Or if you, like me and Sir Walter Raleigh, have all the affection toward nature’s furry friends as a standard villain in a Disney  movie, capture your ire in ink! Remember: Better far than praise of men, ’tis to sit with book and pen!

Take us out, Neil Young!  

Old King by Neil Young


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