I like to offer up a few of my favorite poems from poetry collections, rather than try to “review” them. I’ve just finished the wonderful Dog Songs, by Mary Oliver, and it’s a bit different from her other collections. She is so good at capturing the joy of quietly observing the natural world around us and her deep love of life. In this collection she turns her attention squarely on one of her greatest joys: dogs. She writes about the dogs she has given a home to: tributes to their quirkiness and unique natures. She writes about the joy they add to her life. The laughs. The heavy heart of loss, though it’s not a sad collection. It’s an assembly of some previous published poems and some new offerings, but they are all about our four legged best friends.
Here’s one of my favorites:
THE SWEETNESS OF DOGS
What do you say, Percy? I am thinking
of sitting out on the sand to watch
the moon rise. It’s full tonight.
So we go
and the moon rises, so beautiful it
makes me shudder, makes me think about
time and space, makes me take
measure of myself: one iota
pondering heaven. Thus we sit, myself
thinking how grateful I am for the moon’s
perfect beauty and also, oh! how rich
it is to love the world. Percy, meanwhile,
leans against me and gazes up into
my face. As though I were just as wonderful
as the perfect moon.
The collection also includes an essay at the end, and I’d like to share my favorite passage:
“But I want to extol not the sweetness nor the placidity of the dog, but the wilderness out of which he cannot step entirely, and from which we benefit. For wilderness is our first home too, and in our wild ride into modernity with all its concerns and problems we need also all the good attachments to that origin that we can keep or restore. Dog is one of the messengers of that rich and still magical first world. The dog would remind us of the pleasures of the body with its graceful physicality, and the acuity and rapture of the senses, and the beauty of forest and ocean and rain and our own breath. There is not a dog that romps and runs but we learn from him.
The other dog – the one that all its life walks leashed and obedient down the sidewalk – is what a chair is to a tree. It is a possession only, the ornament of a human life. Such dogs can remind us of nothing large or noble or mysterious or lost. They cannot make us sweeter or more kind.
Only unleashed dogs can do that. They are a kind of poetry themselves when they are devoted not only to us but to the wet night, to the moon and the rabbit-smell in the grass and their own bodies leaping forward.”
Author photo by Rachel Giese Brown