Poems listed alphabetically by author.
Funeral Blues by W. H. Auden
To Flush, My Dog by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Epitaph to a Dog by Lord Byron
To One in Sorrow by Grace Noll Crowell
No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief by Gerard Manley Hopkins
On the Grasshopper and Cricket by John Keats
Where to Bury A Dog by Ben Hur Lampman
Talking to Grief by Denise Levertov
A Cat Named Sloopy by Rod McKuen
A Dog has Died by Pablo Neruda
Her Grave by Mary Oliver
Spirits of the Dead by Edgar Allen Poe
The Swan by Rainer Maria Rilke
A Lament for the Dead Pets of Our Childhood by A. E. Stallings
The Dog by Ivan Turgenev
Another Dog’s Death by John Updike
Rainbow Connection by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher
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. (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
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.
One of the most well-known dog poems. The notions of life, death and grief go beyond the poem itself – as Flush was given to Elizabeth by her friend to provide comfort after the death of her brother in 1840. Flush was referenced by Elizabeth and future husband, Robert Browning, in thier poetry, and also became the subject of a book, Flush: A Biography, by Virginia Woolf. Read more here; accessed on 6/30/16.
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.
This painting 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.”
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.
No worst, there is none. Pitched
past pitch of grief.
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, wórld-sorrow; on an áge-old anvil wince and sing —
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked ‘No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief.”‘
O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.
Source: Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985). originally published posthumously in 1918. [Found on Poetry Foundation, accessed 11/30/15]
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
Where to Bury A Dog
by Ben Hur Lampman
A subscriber of the Ontario Argus has written to the
editor of that fine weekly, propounding a certain question,
which, so far as we know, yet remains unanswered. The
question is this — “Where shall I bury my dog?” It is asked
in advance of death.
The Oregonian trusts the Argus will not be offended if this
newspaper undertakes an answer, for surely such a
question merits a reply, since the man who asked it, on the
evidence of his letter, loves the dog. It distresses him to
think of his favorite as dishonored in death, mere carrion
in the winter rains. Within that sloping, canine skull, he
must reflect when the dog is dead, were thoughts that
dignified the dog and honored the master. The hand of the
master and of the friend stroked often in affection this
rough, pathetic husk that was a dog.
We would say to the Ontario man that there are various
places in which a dog may be buried. We are thinking
now of a setter, whose coat was flame in the sunshine,
and who, so far as we are aware, never entertained a
mean or an unworthy thought. This setter is buried
beneath a cherry tree, under four feet of garden loam, and
at its proper season the cherry strews petals on the green
lawn of his grave. Beneath a cherry tree, or an apple, or
any flowering shrub of the garden, is an excellent place to
bury a good dog.
Beneath such trees, such shrubs, he slept in the drowsy
summer, or gnawed at a flavorous bone, or lifted head to
challenge some strange intruder. These are good places, in
life or in death. Yet it is a small matter, and it touches
sentiment more than anything else. For if the dog be well
remembered, if sometimes he leaps through your dreams
actual as in life, eyes kindling, questing, asking, laughing,
begging, it matters not at all where that dog sleeps at long
and at last.
On a hill where the wind is unrebuked, and the trees are
roaring, or beside a stream he knew in puppyhood, or
somewhere in the flatness of a pasture land, where most
exhilarating cattle graze. It is all one to the dog, and all one
to you, and nothing is gained, and nothing lost — if
memory lives. But there is one best place to bury a dog.
One place that is best of all.
If you bury him in this spot, the secret of which you must
already have, he will come to you when you call — come
to you over the grim, dim frontiers of death, and down the
well-remembered path, and to your side again. And
though you call a dozen living dogs to heel they shall not
growl at him, nor resent his coming, for he is yours and he
belongs there. People may scoff at you, who see no
lightest blade of grass bent by his footfall, who hear no
whimper pitched too fine for mere audition, people who
may never really have had a dog. Smile at them then, for
you shall know something that is hidden from them, and
which is well worth the knowing. The one best place to
bury a good dog is in the heart of its master.
This column was published early in Lampman’s career at The Oregonian on Sept. 11, 1925. It was later included in his book of essays and poems, How Could I Be Forgetting, published in 1926. It has since been cited by many to memorialize their dogs during times of bereavement. Ben Hur Lampman was named poet laureate of Oregon in 1951.
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 collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders,
my house your own
and me your person
my own dog.
New Directions Books, p. 43.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.'”
A Dog has Died
by Pablo Neruda
Photo: Pablo Neruda & his dog Chu Tuh © by Sara Facio.
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
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
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
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.
the slick mountains of love break
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
The breeze—the breath of God—is still—
And the mist upon the hill,
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.
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 Credit: Rainer Maria Rilke, by Muzot. 1926.
A Lament for the Dead Pets of Our Childhood
by A. E. Stallings
Even now I dream of rabbits murdered
By loose dogs in the dark, the saved-up voice
Spilt on the last terror, or the springtime
Of lost baby rabbits, grey and blind
As moles, that slipped from birth and from the nest
Into a grey, blind rain, became the mud.
And still i gather up their shapes in dreams,
Those poor, leftover Easter eggs, all grey.
That’s how we found out death the strangled bird
Undone by a toy hung in his cage,
The foundlings that would never last the night,
Be it pigeon, crippled snake, the kitten
Whose very fleas forsook it in the morning
While we nursed a hangover of hope.
After the death of pets, dolls lay too still
And wooden in the cradle, sister, after
We learned death: not hell, no ghosts or angels,
But a cold thing in the image of a warm thing,
Limp as sleep without the twitch of dreams.
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
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
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
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:
Why are theare so many songs about rainbows
And what’s on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
And rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we’ve been told and some choose to believe it
I know they’re wrong, wait and see.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection,
The lovers, the dreamers and me.
Who said that every wish would be heard and answered
when wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of that
and someone believed it,
and look what it’s done so far.
What’s so amazing that keeps us stargazing?
And what do we think we might see?
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection,
the lovers, the dreamers and me.
All of us under its spell,
we know that it’s probably magic….
Have you been half asleep
and have you heard voices?
I’ve heard them calling my name.
Is this the sweet sound that calls the young sailors?
The voice might be one and the same.
I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it.
It’s something that I’m supposed to be.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection,
the lovers, the dreamers and me.
La, la la, La, la la la, La Laa, la la, La, La la laaaaaaa
Williams, Paul and Kenneth Ascher, for the film, The Muppet Movie. (Fuzzy Muppet Songs), Atlantic, Walt Disney. 1979.
This is the only song sung by an animal – a frog named Kermit. The Rainbow Connection predated the popularity of the Rainbow Bridge beginning in the late 1980s. Williams recalled:
The amazing thing about the song is that it’s a song about questions instead of answers… We start out with Kermit sitting in the swamp… We looked at it and said, well what has he got? He’s got water, he’s got air, he’s got light. You have refraction, you have rainbows.
quoted from: Hennes, Joe. A Thankful Heart: The Paul Williams Interview, part 2 in toughpigs.com. March 6, 2013. accessed 2/25/16.
updated April 17, 2020