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Good Dog!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Praise of a Collie

by Norman MacCaig

She was a small dog, neat and fluid —
Even her conversation was tiny:
She greeted you with bow, never bow-wow.

Her sons stood monumentally over her
But did what she told them. Each grew grizzled
Till it seemed he was his own mother's grandfather.

Once, gathering sheep on a showery day,
I remarked how dry she was. Pollóchan said, 'Ah,
It would take a very accurate drop to hit Lassie.'

And her tact — and tactics! When the sheep bolted
In an unforeseen direction, over the skyline
Came — who but Lassie, and not even panting.

She sailed in the dinghy like a proper sea-dog.
Where's a burn? — she's first on the other side.
She flowed through fences like a piece of black wind.

But suddenly she was old and sick and crippled ...
I grieved for Pollóchan when he took her for a stroll
And put his gun to the back of her head.

"Praise of a Collie" by Norman MacCaig, from Collected Poems. © Shatto & Windus


Every day I read at least three poems that were chosen by others: I have a paper poetry day by day calendar for 2013 and I subscribe to two on-line services: "A Poem a Day" that comes from and a poem from "The Writer's Almanac." The poem above, by Norman MacCaig, was today's offering in "The Writer's Almanac." I love the tenderness and the realism. Any poet who can scrupulously describe anything is a great poet in my book. In addition, I return to and reread a lot of poetry when I feel like it. I must have about 500 poetry books at home.

But to get back to MacCaig: He makes me feel the grief he felt for his dog and for Pollochan. And to make me feel and think--that is, as my students might say, "genius".

Member Comments About This Blog Post:
IMPROVINGME 1/18/2013 6:10PM

    Natalie -- Your blogs make me feel and think -- "genius."
Thanks for sharing this poem and your two websites.

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SPARKCHANTAL 1/18/2013 1:25PM

    can't we just let dogs (and cats) live out their lives to the end without taking a gun to their heads? those last precious moments are really the most precious.

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CAGEDBIRDSONG 1/18/2013 1:07PM

    Aww, Jeez. This tore me up. I pictured my mom and dad's border collie, Princess Freckles. Another well-written poem.

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KASEYCOFF 1/18/2013 3:47AM

    I don't know that I've seen much of Nash's work beyond the quirky humorous stuff.

Re MacCaig: a painter with words...

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VINOTEA 1/18/2013 2:00AM

    I love the photo of the collie. My parents had one and she was so beautiful! Fit in well with their two Shelties.

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BARCLE 1/18/2013 12:54AM

    What lovely words

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NORWOODGIRL 1/17/2013 11:11PM

    Thanks for this.

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HARMONIUM 1/17/2013 9:49PM

    I took out the comments about my students because they seemed too mean-spirited next to the wonderful poem. Ogden Nash, of "Candy is dandy / But liquor is quicker" wrote this wonderful poem:

On a Good Dog

O, my little pup ten years ago
was arrogant and spry,
Her backbone was a bended bow
for arrows in her eye.
Her step was proud, her bark was loud,
her nose was in the sky,
But she was ten years younger then,
And so, by God, was I.

Small birds on stilts along the beach
rose up with piping cry.
And as they rose beyond her reach
I thought to see her fly.
If natural law refused her wings,
that law she would defy,
for she could do unheard-of things,
and so, at times, could I.

Ten years ago she split the air
to seize what she could spy;
Tonight she bumps against a chair,
betrayed by milky eye!
She seems to pant, Time up, time up!
My little dog must die,
And lie in dust with Hector’s pup;
So, presently, must I.

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OJ_2_OK 1/17/2013 9:14PM

    that is lovely.

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GRACEMCDOG 1/17/2013 7:53PM

    The picture is like my old friend, Sally. I still miss her. Shelties are magical, I swear it. Enjoyed the poem. Thank you. Any one who can spend their days with teenagers and remain sane has my dazed and amazed admiration. Keep them happy, eh? good grief.

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    Great poem. Very heart wrenching.

OMG! I hate the word "amazing". I hear it all day to the point of puking and in the most preposterous situations. The young news anchors on our local news station even pepper their conversations with it several times in a newscast though they should know better. They are communications majors! We are raising a generation of idiots who are amazed by the most mundane of things. Everything is amazing, amazing, amazing. Gag. Thank God my son doesn't use the word. He knows his father and I would upchuck. He has a real vocabulary. Sorry to rant but you hit a nerve.

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MONETRUBY 1/17/2013 6:33PM

    What a lovely poem. And how unfortunate that a member of one of the younger generations (or whatever we should call those young'uns), should pronounce Shakespeare cliche. And can't even use the word in the correct form. Sigh...I feel bad for you, having to deal with them. Are at least a few in possession of curious minds, who could, perhaps, enjoy the work of one of the masters of our language? I surely hope so.

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CARRAND 1/17/2013 5:54PM

    Love the poem. Love The Writer's Almanac, too. I collect poetry books, and keep a computer file of my favorites. Here is another dog poem that I like, on a similar theme, also very sad:

by John Updike

Dog’s Death

She must have been kicked unseen or brushed by a car.
Too young to know much, she was beginning to learn
To use the newspapers spread on the kitchen floor
And to win, wetting there, the words, “Good dog! Good dog!”

We thought her shy malaise was a shot reaction.
The autopsy disclosed a rupture in her liver.
As we teased her with play, blood was filling her skin
And her heart was learning to lie down forever.

Monday morning, as the children were noisily fed
And sent to school, she crawled beneath the youngest’s bed.
We found her twisted limp but still alive.
In the car to the vet’s, on my lap, she tried

To bite my hand and died. I stroked her warm fur
And my wife called in a voice imperious with tears.
Though surrounded by love that would have upheld her,
Nevertheless she sank and, stiffening, disappeared.

Back home, we found that in the night her frame,
Drawing near to dissolution, had endured the shame
Of diarrhoea and had dragged across the floor
To a newspaper carelessly left there. Good dog.

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PARASELENIC 1/17/2013 5:53PM

    This poem reminds me of John Updike's Dog's Death:

ng-- it might rip your heart out. I can't even read it here at work, it churns my guts way too badly).

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