Dog Poetry Sunday – E.B. White

There cannot be a single person from my generation who did not read Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swan over and over again. The writings of E.B. White were a large part of the landscape of my childhood and I know I was not alone. Somehow, despite this early foundation, I forgot all about the American literary icon when I grew into an adult. I still adore the children’s stories yet I had no idea Mr. White and I had more in common than an affection for intelligent spiders. I have learned that not only did he co-author one of the most important works for would-be writers, The Elements of Style, he also was a large admirer of canines. Luckily, granddaughter Martha White has rectified this for me.

As I’ve stated, poetry is not my thing. I am literal in my reading selections. Poetry requires deeper analysis, something I am not always up for. Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs changed my mind about verse. I highly recommend picking up a copy if you haven’t already. Her phrasings are deceptively complex but if you read her poems at face value, they are just as enjoyable. Not least because they are about dogs.

However, if I had happened upon E.B. White on Dogs first, I am sure my illumination would have been quite similar. Ms. White did a beautiful job of compiling her grandfather’s essays, poems, and letters about his multiple canine friends. There are several classics in this collection but they are worth a re-read. I love getting to learn more about the literary giant’s personal life. While some selections made me tear up – such as the lovely letter to his wife, in the voice of her Scottish Terrier, Daisy – many just made me smile. White is not necessarily known for his poetry but I think this compilation reveals the deep and multi-faceted man he was.

It also shares some really cute pictures.

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The below poem is one that, to me, showed how well White understood the canine mind. It certainly describes the leaping mind of the dog beside me, anyway. I hope you get something out of it too.

Dog Around the Block ~ E.B. White

Dog around the block, sniff,
Hydrant sniffing, corner, grating,
Sniffing, always, starting forward,
Backward, dragging, sniffing backward,
Leash at taut, leash at dangle,
Leash in people’s feet entangle—
Sniffing dog, apprised of smellings,
Love of life, and fronts of dwellings,
Meeting enemies,
Loving old acquaintance, sniff,
Sniffing hydrant for reminders,
Leg against the wall, raise,
Leaving grating, corner greeting,
Chance for meeting, sniff, meeting,
Meeting, telling, news of smelling,
Nose to tail, tail to nose,
Rigid, careful, pose,
Liking, partly liking, hating,
Then another hydrant, grating,
Leash at taut, leash at dangle,
Tangle, sniff, untangle,
Dog around the block, sniff.

Dog Poetry Sunday – Dog Music

I sing to Shiva constantly; she is my best audience. I started the habit by warbling old Disney tunes to her on walks. It was a recommendation from our trainer, back in the days when every outdoor stroll was a battle, when enemies lurked over each hill and beneath each bush. If I sang, I was told, I would feel more relaxed and thus, my grip on the leash would be less tense, enabling us to face our adversaries with more confidence. And fewer teeth being gnashed.

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The custom never went away. I still find myself humming or singing a few favoured lines as we creep through the forest in the morning. Not loud enough to be overheard, of course, just for the two of us. I like to think she enjoys it as much as I do.

Unlike the dogs in the poem below, Shiva never joins my caroling. Though my childhood dog loved to sing, especially when alone in the backyard, Shiva makes music in other ways. Through stomps and short huffs, whines and long sighs, she gets her message across. These sounds have a beauty all their own. Even her barks, while alarming for the unprepared, are akin to the crash of symbols. If Shiva was in a band, she would play percussion.

Do your dogs make music? Do you wish they didn’t?

Dog Music ~ Paul Zimmer

Amongst dogs are listeners and singers.
My big dog sang with me so purely,
puckering her ruffled lips into an O,
beginning with small, swallowing sounds
like Coltrane musing, then rising to power
and resonance, gulping air to continue—
her passion and sense of flawless form—
singing not with me, but for the art of dogs.
We joined in many fine songs—”Stardust,”
“Naima,” “The Trout,” “My Rosary,” “Perdido.”
She was a great master and died young,
leaving me with unrelieved grief,
her talents known to only a few.

Now I have a small dog who does not sing,
but listens with discernment, requiring
skill and spirit in my falsetto voice.
I sing her name and words of love
andante, con brio, vivace, adagio.
Sometimes she is so moved she turns
to place a paw across her snout,
closes her eyes, sighing like a girl
I held and danced with years ago.

But I am a pretender to dog music.
The true strains rise only from
the rich, red chambers of a canine heart,
these melodies best when the moon is up,
listeners and singers together or
apart, beyond friendship and anger,
far from any human imposter—
ballads of long nights lifting
to starlight, songs of bones, turds,
conquests, hunts, smells, rankings,
things settled long before our birth.

Poem found via Poetry Foundation, original source: Poetry (August 1999).

Dog Poetry Sunday – An Agility Blessing

It could be nostalgia or it could be jealousy. When I found this poem on Agility Nut I knew it would be perfect for my Sunday series. I have spent a greater part of the weekend watching the videos of my Haligonian friends as they go on to earn title after title in one of the greatest sports in the world. I knew these people and these dogs back when they were just starting out, when one was too scared to zip through a curved tunnel and when another quivered at the sight of a tire jump. It is heart-warming to see how our former teammates have grown and it is bittersweet to watch from afar as they succeed beyond their early expectations.

I miss the sport of dog agility a lot. It was a significant part of our lives for almost four years. It was where we found each other. The few moments Shiva and I had together, when everything just connected, were a wicked experiences. Our last class together in July 2013, before we moved to Edmonton, was one of those times. It is a memory I will always treasure. If only we had it on video. If only those moments had been more frequent. If only things had aligned a little better for us.

This isn’t to say we’ll never get back into the ring. One never knows what awaits. But it isn’t going to be any time soon.

Here is a blessing to all dogs and humans participating in agility, this weekend and next, and all the days to come, whether your are just beginning or whether you are a seasoned professional. May your frustrations be minor and your joys of working together outweigh them all.

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An Agility Blessing, by P.J. Hughes

May the tunnels not have too much suction,
May the course be fun and fast.
May your dog not stop to say “hello”
to the photographers they pass!

May the table not be too slippery,
May the chute house no scary beasts,
May all the yellow parts be touched
with one little toe, at least.

May the wind be always at your back,
May no bars fall on the ground.
May the A-frame have no stop sign on the top,
May the judge’s whistle never sound.

May your dog obey all correct commands
And ignore the ones that are wrong.
May your heart be light, your feet be sure
and the bond with your dog grow strong.

At the finish line, may great joy abound,
regardless of your score,
You have your dog, your dog has you,,
and who could ask for more?

Dog Poetry Sunday – Pollard

It has been a week full of challenges in Shiva’s House of Deluded Dreamers. Broken feet, broken websites, and broken reservations. All three have yet to be mended and the frustration levels are climbing. At least Rescued Insanity is back in action enough for me to share some happy verse with you. I will try to be grateful and enjoy the blessings I have in the moment, however short-lived they may be.

I found today’s selection on a website for children. What a chest full of fun little gems this online space is. I may be pulling from it again in the future. Like kid jokes, there is something all the more endearing about kid poems.

The below story, for it is more of a narration than it is of a poetic entreaty – the best poems are, in my opinion, features two familiar characters: a cat and a dog. They get on in an amusing way and I enjoyed the imagery of the two species singing together. Shiva and TC both vocalize but never together. Now I kind of wish they did.

Happy Sunday!

Music on All Fours, by Josephine Pollard

A Pussy-cat and a Black-and-Tan
Were shut in a room together,
And, after a season of quiet, began
To talk of the change in the weather,
And new spring fashions, and after that
They had a sort of musical chat.
Said Puss: “To me it is quite absurd—
But tastes and opinions vary;
And some have declared that no beast or bird
Can sing like the small canary,—
Who, if it be true as I’ve heard it told,
Is really worth more than its weight in gold!”

Said the Black-and-Tan, with a pensive smile:
“I’ve wanted to call attention
To this bit of scandal for quite a while,
And, if not amiss, to mention
That my daily allowance of bark and whine
Has greatly improved this voice of mine.”
“It has,” said Puss, with a comic grin;
“The words of truth you have spoken;
A name for ourselves we must strive to win
At once, now the ice is broken;
For one or two doses of catnip tea
Have had a wondrous effect on me!

“‘Twas only the other night I strayed
Where a silvery moonbeam slanted,
And gave such a beautiful serenade
You’d have thought the place enchanted.
It roused the neighborhood to a pitch
Of praise, or envy—I can’t tell which.”
Said the Black-and-Tan, “Why shouldn’t we try
To sing a duet together?”
Said the Puss, “I see no reason why
We can’t; and we’ll show them whether
To birds and bipeds alone belong
The gift of singing a pleasing song!”

They sang—and they sang; but oh, my dears!
If you had been anywhere near them,
You’d have shut your eyes and stopped your ears,
And wished that you couldn’t hear them.
‘Twas a brilliant effort, upon my word,
And nearly killed the canary-bird.
The Pussy-cat and the Black-and-Tan
With the music were so delighted,
They will give a concert as soon as they can,
And perhaps we may be invited.
“Bow-wow!” “Miaow!” I’m sorry, you know,
I’ve another engagement—and cannot go!

Dog Poetry Sunday – Sassoon

Today’s poem and poet was introduced to me by the venerable writer of Will My Dog Hate Me and Freud’s Butcher. One can say what she likes about Facebook but if it wasn’t for social media, I would have missed out on many scholarly treasures. Not to mention, countless adorable cat videos. This particular status update linked to a post on NPR about a dog’s one hundredth birthday. The whole thing is worth reading – it isn’t long – and of course, being Sunday, I was thrilled to find the several lines of verse included at the end.

From what I have learned, Sassoon was an English poet writing from the trenches of World War I. He was recommended for the Victoria Cross for his bravery in action on the Western Front and for his superior leadership skills. Given the atrocities he witnessed, it is understandable the writer suffered from mental health challenges and became more known for his opposition to the war than for his literary talents.

I am not surprised I had not heard of him before. My focus has always drifted towards the 19th century. Yet I am the first to admit that I am missing out. From my limited reading tonight Siegfried Sassoon sounds like someone I would like to get to know. What better place to begin than with his poem about a man and his dog?

I am sure we can all relate to the words below. Immediately I am brought back to the woods in Beford, Nova Scotia, where Shiva and I would explore without restraint. Running in large circles around me, stopping and sniffing at whim, and then chasing to catch up, Shiva was free and as close to perfectly happy as she can be. So was I. It was our space; we could commune and connect. I hope to find a similar forest again.

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Man and Dog, by Siegfriend Sassoon

Who’s this — alone with stone and sky?
It’s only my old dog and I —
It’s only him; it’s only me;
Alone with stone and grass and tree.

What share we most — we two together?
Smells, and awareness of the weather.

What is it makes us more than dust?
My trust in him; in me his trust.

Here’s anyhow one decent thing
That life to man and dog can bring;
One decent thing, remultiplied
Till earth’s last dog and man have died.

EN: Just in case you are wondering, I may have missed posting here yesterday due to a camping trip to Pigeon Lake, but I didn’t forget my writing obligations. If interested, you can find my handwritten post here.

Dog Poetry Sunday – Wordsworth

In eleventh grade English I was assigned to memorize my favourite poem, recite it in front of the class, and then state why I liked it best. This felt like a cruel chore at the time. I didn’t read poetry if I could help it. There wasn’t even a poet I could say I enjoyed, let alone a single poem. Sure and I could select one at random but how could I defend this choice in front of my peers?

I remember going to the public library and entering the poetry section for the first time. Almost all of the names were unfamiliar. When I pulled out a collected works, none of the verses made any sense to me. I knew then I was doomed.

It took several hours of exasperated searching before I came upon a poem by William Wordsworth. Out of all words I had read that afternoon, his were the only ones to trigger anything in my brain. Thus, I found myself memorizing “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” for the benefit of my fellow high school students. I can’t remember my stuttered defense of his poetic talents but I still know most of the words of the poem today. I still look upon Wordsworth as one of the few poets who wrote about real things. Or, at least things I can discern.

The below poem is actually even better than my high school find. Not just because it is about a dog. I am glad I found it when searching for something to share tonight. It tells a story in such a lovely fashion. I am tempted to read it aloud for you all as the rhythm seems to demand it. It might even be worth memorizing.

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Fidelity, by William Wordsworth

A barking sound the Shepherd hears,
A cry as of a dog or fox;
He halts–and searches with his eyes
Among the scattered rocks:
And now at distance can discern
A stirring in a brake of fern;
And instantly a dog is seen,
Glancing through that covert green.

The Dog is not of mountain breed;
Its motions, too, are wild and shy;
With something, as the Shepherd thinks,
Unusual in its cry:
Nor is there any one in sight
All round, in hollow or on height;
Nor shout, nor whistle strikes his ear;
What is the creature doing here?

It was a cove, a huge recess,
That keeps, till June, December’s snow;
A lofty precipice in front,
A silent tarn below!
Far in the bosom of Helvellyn,
Remote from public road or dwelling,
Pathway, or cultivated land;
From trace of human foot or hand.

There sometimes doth a leaping fish
Send through the tarn a lonely cheer;
The crags repeat the raven’s croak,
In symphony austere;
Thither the rainbow comes–the cloud–
And mists that spread the flying shroud;
And sunbeams; and the sounding blast,
That, if it could, would hurry past;
But that enormous barrier holds it fast.

Not free from boding thoughts, a while
The Shepherd stood; then makes his way
O’er rocks and stones, following the Dog
As quickly as he may;
Nor far had gone before he found
A human skeleton on the ground;
The appalled Discoverer with a sigh
Looks round, to learn the history.

From those abrupt and perilous rocks
The Man had fallen, that place of fear!
At length upon the Shepherd’s mind
It breaks, and all is clear:
He instantly recalled the name,
And who he was, and whence he came;
Remembered, too, the very day
On which the Traveller passed this way.

But hear a wonder, for whose sake
This lamentable tale I tell!
A lasting monument of words
This wonder merits well.
The Dog, which still was hovering nigh,
Repeating the same timid cry,
This Dog, had been through three months’ space
A dweller in that savage place.

Yes, proof was plain that, since the day
When this ill-fated Traveller died,
The Dog had watched about the spot,
Or by his master’s side:
How nourished here through such long time
He knows, who gave that love sublime;
And gave that strength of feeling, great
Above all human estimate!

As always, if you have a favourite you can recommend, I would love to read it and share!

Dog Poetry Sunday – SabirWulf

The writer of this week’s poem wanted me to be clear that he wrote it in less than fifteen minutes, hence the title. He gave me permission to share it, though it took some convincing. Despite his somewhat over-confidence in all other aspects of his life, in this area it seems he is dubious of his talents. I think he is wrong and am certain you will enjoy this piece as much as I do.

In all sincerity, this may be my favourite yet. There are no fancy allegories or obscure references. It features only the simple experiences of a human and a dog. This is the kind of verse I can get behind.

Due to the poet’s reticence, I am using an approved pseudonym.

A Fifteen Minute Poem, by SabirWulf

The daily routine of coming home to a mutt
I sprint up the stairs, to let you out of your hut
Free of the crate, you run down the stair case
You have to beat me down there, like it’s some kind of race

I see you waiting, hiding behind the chair
The wagging tail over the armrest let me know you were there
You pounce towards me, mouth open in a grin
You want to tug and wrestle, this time you may finally win

The crazies soon dwindle, you are just glad that I am here
“never leave me again” you pleas “ it is my only fear”
Other than water, lawn mowers and the occasional gnome
And the stretched use of words to rhyme, in a quickly written poem

The running is done, it is time to lay near me
Tightly locked in place, despite finally being free
Some ear scratches, you want nothing more than that
Except, oh wait, I think you saw the cat

You leaps up once again, in play and in joy
He’s cute and he’s orange, and he’s your favourite toy
Until he fights back, you don’t understand that game
But even if it hurts, you want to play all the same

“I wish I wasn’t home by myself through the whole day,
But I know you have to go, at least that’s what you say.
Our daily routine, I cannot wait until when
You get home tomorrow, and we can do it all again.”

Is there a dog-related poem you enjoy? If so, I’d love to read and share it here.