Dog Songs


I listed this great little book by Mary Oliver (with illustrations by John Burgoyne) as one of my May readings, but I got it already in March. I can’t believe that I left it lying around unread until May. Did I read it already in April and forgot to list it? No matter. I keep taking it up to reread the poems and look at the drawings. I love them both. The poems are not mawkish or sentimental. They evoke the pleasures and griefs of living with dogs. They celebrate their lives by imagining how they might see the world. The pencil drawings of dogs that accompany the poems are also lovely. I don’t know if they are portraits of Oliver’s own dogs, because the poems are about the dogs in her life, but it doesn’t matter, they beautifully complement the poems.

Some excerpts to give you an impression of what the poems are like:

Where goes he now, that dark little dog
who used to come down the road barking and shining?
He’s gone now, from the world of particulars,
the singular, the visible.

From “Bazougey” in Mary Oliver, Dog Songs, Penguin 2015, p. 41.

“Please, please, I think I haven’t eaten
for days.”
What? Ricky, you had a huge supper.

From “The Wicked Smile”, p. 83

A puppy is a puppy is a puppy.
He’s probably in a basket with a bunch
of other puppies.

From “How It Begins”, p. 1.

I’ve had dogs in my life since I was about 10 or 11 and I often think back on all of them – Cindy, Rolf, Rex, Liese, Rolf II, and Arwen (a rather strange name for a dog, but she already had it when we got her – she was a lovely dog, but didn’t exactly remind one of the daughter of Elrond. Even the colour of her fur was wrong. Arwen II (called Annie, when she came to us, but as one of our neighbours also had this name so we had to change it and somehow, my parents stuck with “Arwen”). And, of course, Curious Dog has been with us now already for more than 6 years. How time flies. What an independent puppy he was, and what a handful when he was in his teens! And now he’s all grown up… The “dog songs” sing to me.

For dog lovers or people who live with dogs and enjoy poems, the book is a small treasure.

Keep safe, world.

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