Poetry

Poems listed alphabetically by author.

Funeral Blues by W. H. Auden
Epitaph to a Dog by Lord Byron
To One in Sorrow by Grace Noll Crowell
On the Grasshopper and Cricket by John Keats
Talking to Grief by Denise Levertov
A Cat Named Sloopy by Rod McKuen
Her Grave by Mary Oliver
Spirits of the Dead by Edgar Allen Poe
The Swan by Rainer Maria Rilke
The Dog by Ivan Turgenev
Another Dog’s Death by John Updike

Funeral BluesWH-Auden-Pangur
by W. H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

© W. H. Auden. All rights reserved.
W. H. Auden. (1940). Another Time. New York.
Photo: W.H. Auden with Pangur. “Pangur, white Pangur, How happy we are Alone together, Scholar and cat. Each has his own work to do daily; For you it is hunting, for me, study. Your shining eye watches the wall; My feeble eye is fixed on a book. You rejoice when your claws entrap a mouse; I rejoice when my mind fathoms a problem. Pleased with his own art Neither hinders the other; Thus we live ever Without tedium and envy. Pangur, white Pangur, How happy we are, Alone together, Scholar and cat.” -The Monk and His Cat, adapted by W. H. Auden from an 8th or 9th century anonymous Irish text

Epitaph to a DogByron's_Dream-Ford-Madox-Brown-1874
by Lord Byron

Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferosity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.

This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
Boatswain, a Dog
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803
and died at Newstead Nov. 18th, 1808*

When some proud Son of Man returns to Earth,
Unknown to Glory, but upheld by Birth,
The sculptor’s art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And storied urns record who rests below.
When all is done, upon the Tomb is seen,
Not what he was, but what he should have been.
But the poor Dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his Master’s own,
Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonoured falls, unnoticed all his worth,
Denied in heaven the Soul he held on earth –
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.

Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debased by slavery, or corrupt by power –
Who knows thee well, must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy tongue hypocrisy, thy heart deceit!
By nature vile, ennobled but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye, who behold perchance this simple urn,
Pass on – it honours none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one — and here he lies.

Byron wrote these words in 1808 for his beloved Boatswain, his Newfoundland, who died of rabies. The poem is inscribed on Boatswain’s tomb at Byron’s estate, Newstead Abbey.

*The introductory section was written by Byron’s friend, John Hobhouse.

Much has been written about Byron, but less about his love for all his animals. Less still about his request to be buried with his beloved Bostwain. According to Loretta Chase and Susan Holloway Scott

It was Byron’s great desire to be buried with Boatswain, and he expressed that wish in his will. But by the time he died, Newstead had been sold to another owner, who did not wish his home to become the final resting place of the famed poet, nor have it overrun with his grieving admirers. Byron was instead buried in his family’s vault in the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Hucknall. One hopes that he and Boatswain are finally joined in spirit, if not in fact.

Painting: Ford Madox Brown, Byron’s Dream. 1874. Oil on canvas. 71.5 x 54.8 cm. Manchester Art Gallery.

It was completed long after Byron’s death (1824) and “inspired by Byron’s semi-autobiographical poem The Dream (1816).” It depicts Byron with his first lover, Mary Chaworth along with Boatswain in repose upon Diadem Hill, which once offered breathtaking views of the Annesley Hall, Mary’s home. Chase and Scott: “While she represents lost love and thwarted dreams, it’s ever-faithful Boatswain who stands for loyalty.”

To One in SorrowGrace_Noll_Crowell
by Grace Noll Crowell

Let me come in where you are weeping, friend,
And let me take your hand.
I, who have known a sorrow such as yours, can understand.
Let me come in–I would be very still beside you in your grief;
I would not bid you cease your weeping, friend,
Tears bring relief. Let me come in–and hold your hand,
For I have known a sorrow such as yours, And understand.

On the Grasshopper and Cricketby Joseph Severn, oil on ivory, 1819. NPG 1605 © National Portrait Gallery, London
by John Keats

The Poetry of earth is never dead:
 When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
 And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead 5
 In summer luxury,—he has never done
 With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
 On a lone winter evening, when the frost 10
   Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
 And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
   The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.

                                        December 30, 1816

Keats, John. (1884). Poetical Works. London: Macmillan, poem 28; Bartleby.com, 1999. www.bartleby.com/126/. [accessed 8/2/15].

Painting: John Keats by Joseph Severn,1819. Oil on ivory. 108 x 79 mm. NPG 1605
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Talking to GriefDeniseLevertov_Photo-credit-David-Geier
by Denise Levertov

Ah, Grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should trust you.

I should coax you
into the house and give you
your own corner,
a worn mat to lie on,
your own water dish.

You think I don’t know you’ve been living
under my porch.
You long for your real place to be readied
before winter comes. You need
your name,
your collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders,
to consider
my house your own
and me your person
and yourself
my own dog.

Levertov, D. (1978). “Talking to Grief” from Life in the forest. New York:
New Directions Books, p. 43.
Denise Levertov (24 October 1923 – 20 December 1997 / Ilford, Essex)


A Cat Named SloopyRod-McKuen-Cat
by Rod McKuen

For a while
the only earth that Sloopy knew
was in her sandbox.
Two rooms on Fifty-fifth Street
were her domain.
Every night she’d sit in the window
among the avocado plants
waiting for me to come home
(my arms full of canned liver and love).
We’d talk into the night then
contented
but missing something,
She the earth she never knew
me the hills I ran
while growing bent.
Sloopy should have been a cowboy’s cat
with prairies to run
not linoleum
and real-live catnip mice.
No one to depend on but herself.
I never told her
but in my mind
I was a midnight cowboy even then.
Riding my imaginary horse
down Forty-second Street,
going off with strangers
to live an hour-long cowboy’s life,
but always coming home to Sloopy,
who loved me best.

A dozen summers
we lived against the world.
An island on an island.
She’d comfort me with purring
I’d fatten her with smiles.
We grew rich on trust
needing not the beach or butterflies
I had a friend named Ben
Who painted buildings like Roualt men.
He went away.
My laughter tired Lillian
after a time
she found a man who only smiled.
Only Sloopy stay and stayed.
Winter.
Nineteen fifty-nine.
Old men walk their dogs.
Some are walked so often
that their feet leave
little pink tracks
in the soft gray snow.
Women fur on fur
elegant and easy
only slightly pure
hailing cabs to take them
round the block and back.
Who is not a love seeker
when December comes?
even children pray to Santa Claus.
I had my own love safe at home
and yet I stayed out all one night
the next day too.

They must have thought me crazy
screaming
Sloopy
Sloopy
as the snow came falling
down around me.
I was a madman
to have stayed away
one minute more
than the appointed hour.
I’d like to think a golden cowboy
snatched her from the window sill,
and safely saddlebagged
she rode to Arizona.
She’s stalking lizards
in the cactus now perhaps
bitter but free.
I’m bitter too
and not a free man any more.
Once was a time,
in New York’s jungle in a tree,
before I went into the world
in search of other kinds of love
nobody owned me but a cat named Sloopy.
Looking back
perhaps she’s been
the only human thing
that ever gave back love to me.

A Cat Named Sloopy is from the book “Listen To The Warm” published by Random House. Copyright Rod McKuen 1963-1967. [Accessed from My Poetic Side, on 8/29/15]

See his moving rendition from the Mike Douglas Show, December 30, 1969. In the brief interview beforehand, he tells us that the title for the John Schlesinger film, Midnight Cowboy, and its subsequent entrée as a popular idiom, comes from this poem.

Rod McKuen’s poetry and songs, while not honored by academics, had great appeal to the public. Journalist Hillel Italie wrote: “McKuen was an astonishingly successful and prolific force in popular culture, turning out hundreds of songs, poems and records. Sentimental, earnest and unashamed, he conjured a New Age spirit world that captivated those who didn’t ordinarily like “poetry” and those who craved relief from the war, assassinations and riots of the time…’Cats have it all,’ he once wrote, ‘admiration, an endless sleep, and company only when they want it.'”

Her GraveMary Oliver with Ricky © nytimes.com
by Mary Oliver

She would come back, dripping thick water, from the green bog.
She would fall at my feet, she would draw the black skin
from her gums, in a hideous and wonderful smile—–
and I would rub my hands over her pricked ears and her
cunning elbows,
and I would hug the barrel of her body, amazed at the unassuming
perfect arch of her neck.

It took four of us to carry her into the woods.
We did not think of music,
but, anyway, it began to rain
slowly.

Her wolfish, invitational, half-pounce.

Her great and lordly satisfaction at having chased something.

My great and lordly satisfaction at her splash
of happiness as she barged
through the pitch pines swiping my face with her
wild, slightly mossy tongue.

Does the hummingbird think he himself invented his crimson throat?
He is wiser than that, I think.

A dog lives fifteen years, if you’re lucky.

Do the cranes crying out in the high clouds
think it is all their own music?

A dog comes to you and lives with you in your own house, but you
do not therefore own her, as you do not own the rain, or the
trees, or the laws which pertain to them.

Does the bear wandering in the autumn up the side of the hill
think all by herself she has imagined the refuge and the refreshment
of her long slumber?

A dog can never tell you what she knows from the
smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know
almost nothing.

Does the water snake with his backbone of diamonds think
the black tunnel on the bank of the pond is a palace
of his own making?

She roved ahead of me through the fields, yet would come back, or
wait for me, or be somewhere.

Now she is buried under the pines.

Nor will I argue it, or pray for anything but modesty, and
not to be angry.

Through the trees is the sound of the wind, palavering

The smell of the pine needles, what is it but a taste
of the infallible energies?

How strong was her dark body!

How apt is her grave place.

How beautiful is her unshakable sleep.

Finally,
the slick mountains of love break
over us.

Oliver, Mary. 2013. Dog Songs. Penguin Press.
There are many glowing reviews. This one, however, offers the author’s discomfort with “the deepening romanticizing and emotionalizing of animals, it is a great cultural Tsunami that will only get bigger and deeper.”

Photo: © nytimes.com

Spirits of the DeadEdgar-Allan-Poe-Catalina-Charles-Sheldon
by Edgar Allen Poe

       I

Thy soul shall find itself alone
’Mid dark thoughts of the gray tombstone—
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.

       II

Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness—for then
The spirits of the dead who stood
In life before thee are again
In death around thee—and their will
Shall overshadow thee: be still.

       III

The night, tho’ clear, shall frown—
And the stars shall look not down
From their high thrones in the heaven,
With light like Hope to mortals given—
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever.

       IV

Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,
Now are visions ne’er to vanish;
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more—like dew-drop from the grass.

       V

The breeze—the breath of God—is still—
And the mist upon the hill,
Shadowy—shadowy—yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token—
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries!

A.k.a. “Visits of the Dead” in 1827 collection Tamerlane and Other Poems. Current title introduced in 1829 collection, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems. Source: Poetry Foundation and Wikipedia. In the public domain.

Drawing:Charles Mills Sheldon, Poe at work under Catalina’s eye [detail]. Illustration from Cassell’s Book of Knowledge. c 1910. Lithograph. Private collection. [In one transcribed letter, he refers to Caterina, which seems more likely – who is right?] Read more about Poe and Caterina here.

The SwanRainer Maria Rilke, Muzot, 1926.
by Rainer Maria Rilke
translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows

This laboring of ours with all that remains undone,
as if still bound to it,
is like the lumbering gait of the swan.

And then our dying—releasing ourselves
from the very ground on which we stood—
is like the way he hesitantly lowers himself

into the water. It gently receives him,
and, gladly yielding, flows back beneath him,
as wave follows wave,
while he, now wholly serene and sure,
with regal composure,
allows himself to glide.

Rilke’s poem was originally published in 1902. For more about Joanna Macy and her affection for Rilke’s poetry, read here.

Photo:Rainer Maria Rilke, Muzot, 1926.

The DogIvan-Turgenev
by Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883)

Us two in the room; my dog and me….Outside a fearful storm is howling.

The dog sits in front of me, and looks me straight in the face.

And I, too, look into his face.

He wants, it seems, to tell me something. He is dumb, he is without words, he does not understand himself – but I understand him.

I understand that at this instant there is living in him and in me the same feeling, that there is no difference between us. We are the same; in each of us there burns and shines the same trembling spark.

Death sweeps down, with a wave of its chill broad wing….

And the end!

Who then can discern what was the spark that glowed in each of us?

No! We are not beast and man that glance at one another….

They are the eyes of equals, those eyes riveted on one another.

And in each of these, in the beast and in the man, the same life huddles up in fear close to the other.

“The Dog” is reprinted from Dream Tales and Prose Poems. Ivan Turgenev. (Trans. Constance Garnett). New York: The Macmillan Company, 1920.
Read more at http://www.poetry-archive.com/t/the_dog.html#SHbcTiuyQ3SrOZU1.99

Photo: Ivan Turgenev by Nadar. Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Another Dog’s DeathJohn-Updike
by John Updike

For days the good old bitch had been dying, her back
pinched down to the spine and arched to ease the pain,
her kidneys dry, her muzzle white. At last
I took a shovel into the woods and dug her grave

in preparation for the certain. She came along,
which I had not expected. Still, the children gone,
such expeditions were rare, and the dog,
spayed early, knew no nonhuman word for love.

She made her stiff legs trot and let her bent tail wag.
We found a spot we liked, where the pines met the
field.
The sun warmed her fur as she dozed and I dug;
I carved her a safe place while she protected me.

I measured her length with the shovel’s long handle;
she perked in amusement, and sniffed the heaped-up
earth.
Back down at the house, she seemed friskier,
but gagged, eating. We called the vet a few days later.

They were old friends. She held up a paw, and he
injected a violet fluid. She swooned on the lawn;
we watched her breathing quickly slow and cease.
In a wheelbarrow up to the hole, her warm fur shone.

Updike, John. (1993). Collected Poems, 1953-1993. New York:
Knopf.

updated August 30, 2015

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