Grief is itself a medicine. - Cowper
May 29, 2008 9:41 AM   Subscribe

Reading/poetry to say goodbye to a dog?

My boyfriend's dog, Freyja, died about a year and a half ago. He had her for about 12 years, and still talks about her frequently and fondly - little stories like coming home and whispering "Skate or die!" and laughing as she started to bounce up and down in excitement. Anyway, he thinks he's ready to say his final goodbyes by scattering her ashes in the town where he found her. (I should say, where she found him - she was a stray who just wandered up to his house, he let her in, and that was that.)

He's asked me to come along - so I wondered if anyone knew of some kind of poem or reading about a dog, or the nature of dogs and their relationships to humans, that would be appropriate. No rainbow bridge stuff - he really likes poetry, but more like Frank O'Hara, or this one by William Stafford.
posted by Liosliath to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: How about Jane Kenyon?

The dog has cleaned his bowl
and his reward is a biscuit,
which I put in his mouth
like a priest offering the host.

I can't bear that trusting face!
He asks for bread, expects
bread, and I in my power
might have given him a stone.

posted by zia at 9:48 AM on May 29, 2008

Best answer: How about "Epitaph to a Dog" by Sir William Watson?

His friends he loved. His fellest earthly foes--
Cats--I believe he did but feign to hate.
My hand will miss the insinuated nose,
Mine eyes that tail that wagged contempt at Fate.

Beautiful dog, by the way!! It's sad that she's gone :(
posted by Verdandi at 9:59 AM on May 29, 2008

Best answer: Dog's Death by John Updike

Four-Feet by Rudyard Kipling; I LOVE it but at the same time find it somewhat too well-known/sentimental. But it's no Rainbow Bridge.
posted by Jeanne at 10:06 AM on May 29, 2008

Best answer: Beau by Jimmy Stewart
posted by genefinder at 10:23 AM on May 29, 2008

Best answer: Maybe a little too sappy and sentimental, but Kipling's The Power of The Dog gets to me.
posted by cameradv at 10:34 AM on May 29, 2008

Best answer: Un perro ha muerto

Mi perro ha muerto.
Lo enterré en el jardín
junto a una vieja máquina oxidada.

Allí, no más abajo,
ni más arriba,
se juntará conmigo alguna vez.
Ahora él ya se fue con su pelaje,
su mala educación, su nariz fría.
Y yo, materialista que no cree
en el celeste cielo prometido
para ningún humano,
para este perro o para todo perro
creo en el cielo, sí, creo en un cielo
donde yo entraré, pero él me espera
ondulando su cola de abanico
para que yo al llegar tenga amistades.

Ay no diré la tristeza en la tierra
de no tenerlo más por compañero
que para mí jamás fue un servidor.
Tuvo hacia mí la amistad de un erizo
que conservaba su soberanía,
la amistad de una estrella independiente
sin más intimidad que la precisa,
sin exageraciones:
no se trepaba sobre mi vestuario
llenándome de pelos o de sarna,
no se frotaba contra mi rodilla
como otros perros obsesos sexuales.

No, mi perro me miraba
dándome la atención que necesito,
la atención necesaria
para hacer comprender a un vanidoso
que siendo perro él,
con esos ojos, más puros que los míos,
perdía el tiempo, pero me miraba
con la mirada que me reservó
toda su dulce, su peluda vida,
su silenciosa vida,
cerca de mí, sin molestarme nunca,
y sin pedirme nada.

Ay cuántas veces quise tener cola
andando junto a él por las orillas
del mar, en el invierno de Isla Negra,
en la gran soledad: arriba el aire
traspasado de pájaros glaciales
y mi perro brincando, hirsuto, lleno
de voltaje marino en movimiento:
mi perro vagabundo y olfatorio
enarbolando su cola dorada
frente a frente al océano y su espuma.

Alegre, alegre, alegre
como los perros saben ser felices,
sin nada más, con el absolutismo
de la naturaleza descarada.
No hay adiós a mi perro que se ha muerto.

Y no hay ni hubo mentira entre nosotros.
Ya se fue y lo enterré, y eso era todo.

A Dog Has Died

My dog has died.
I buried him in the garden
next to a rusted old machine.

Some day I'll join him right there,
but now he's gone with his shaggy coat,
his bad manners and his cold nose,
and I, the materialist, who never believed
in any promised heaven in the sky
for any human being,
I believe in a heaven I'll never enter.
Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.

Ai, I'll not speak of sadness here on earth,
of having lost a companion
who was never servile.
His friendship for me, like that of a porcupine
withholding its authority,
was the friendship of a star, aloof,
with no more intimacy than was called for,
with no exaggerations:
he never climbed all over my clothes
filling me full of his hair or his mange,
he never rubbed up against my knee
like other dogs obsessed with sex.

No, my dog used to gaze at me,
paying me the attention I need,
the attention required
to make a vain person like me understand
that, being a dog, he was wasting time,
but, with those eyes so much purer than mine,
he'd keep on gazing at me
with a look that reserved for me alone
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing.

Ai, how many times have I envied his tail
as we walked together on the shores of the sea
in the lonely winter of Isla Negra
where the wintering birds filled the sky
and my hairy dog was jumping about
full of the voltage of the sea's movement:
my wandering dog, sniffing away
with his golden tail held high,
face to face with the ocean's spray.

Joyful, joyful, joyful,
as only dogs know how to be happy
with only the autonomy
of their shameless spirit.

There are no good-byes for my dog who has died,
and we don't now and never did lie to each other.

So now he's gone and I buried him,
and that's all there is to it.

-Pablo Neruda
posted by casarkos at 10:34 AM on May 29, 2008 [18 favorites]

Best answer: Dog Heaven
posted by littleredwagon at 10:46 AM on May 29, 2008

Best answer: Quoting from James Thurber's "Memorial":

[...]She knew that the Hand was upon her and she accepted it with a grave and unapprehensive resignation. This, her dark intelligent eyes seemed to be trying to tell me, is simply the closing of full circle, this is the flower that grows out of Beginning; this - not to make it too hard for you, friend - is as natural as eating the raspberries and raising the puppies and riding into the rain.
posted by jet_silver at 10:48 AM on May 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Billy Collins may be too harsh, but I loved this poem a whole hell of a lot. The last two lines make it clear that it's written by a dog lover.
posted by Science! at 11:02 AM on May 29, 2008

Best answer: So sorry about Freyja. I work in a veterinary emergency hospital, and I like to hand this quote to folks who are grieving.
For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”

— Henry Beston, The Outermost House, 1928
posted by Rock Steady at 11:05 AM on May 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Verse for a Certain Dog by Dorothy Parker, for me contains both the love and joy dogs bring into your life, as well as how they wiggle into your life and your heart, making a little mess of all of it.

Sorry for your loss. Freyja was a lovely dog.
posted by dog food sugar at 12:11 PM on May 29, 2008

Best answer: I love William Stafford. I love my dog. And I love this poem:

Choosing A Dog
William Stafford

"It's love," they say. You touch
the right one and a whole half of the universe
wakes up, a new half.

Some people never find
that half, or they neglect it or trade it
for money or success and it dies.

The faces of big dogs tell, over the years,
that size is a burden: you enjoy it for awhile
but then maintenance gets to you.

When I get old I think I'll keep, not a little
dog, but a serious dog,
for the casual, drop-in criminal —

My kind of dog, unimpressed by
dress or manner, just knowing
what's really there by the smell.

Your good dogs, some things that they hear
they don't really want you to know —
it's too grim or ethereal.

And sometimes when they look in the fire
they see time going on and someone alone,
but they don't say anything.
posted by picopebbles at 1:55 PM on May 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This is really not about dogs, but I think it speaks to something that is good about them and the natural world generally and is appropriately somber.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry
posted by jessamyn at 2:22 PM on May 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: George Vest's infamous closing argument is a eulogy and tribute to a dog's nature.

Gentleman of the jury: A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

Billy Collins' Dharma is great.

The way the dog trots out the front door
every morning
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to her doghouse
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart
with milky admiration.

Who provides a finer example
of a life without encumbrance—
Thoreau in his curtainless hut
with a single plate, a single spoon?
Gandhi with his staff and his holy diapers?

Good luck.
posted by neda at 3:57 PM on May 29, 2008

Best answer: Byron's Epitaph to a Dog:
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
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803
and died at Newstead Nov. 18, 1808.

When some proud Son of Man returns to Earth,
Unknown by 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 labors, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonored 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 words deceit!
By nature vile, ennoble but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye, who perchance behold this simple urn,
Pass on – it honors none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one – and here he lies.
posted by jennyesq at 12:22 AM on May 30, 2008

Response by poster: I marked every answer as 'best' - which may be abusing the idea of best answers. However - I printed every single one of these, and we read two right before we sprinkled the ashes. Then I gave the rest of them to him to read later on, since I know he'll never be 'done' with missing her - but maybe some of the grief is dissipated, leaving just good memories of a really great dog.
posted by Liosliath at 10:19 AM on June 2, 2008

Oh, crud. I'm sorry this is so late; serves me right for not reading MeFi regularly lately. But if you want another poem to give your friend for later, I have to weigh in with the best dead dog (well, maybe dead anything) poem I know:

Oddjob, a Bull Terrier
- Derek Walcott -

You prepare for one sorrow,
but another comes.
It is not like the weather,
you cannot brace yourself,
the unreadiness is all.
Your companion, the woman,
the friend next to you,
the child at your side,
and the dog,
we tremble for them,
we look seaward and muse
it will rain.
We shall get ready for rain;
you do not connect
the sunlight altering
the darkening oleanders
in the sea-garden,
the gold going out of the palms.
You do not connect this,
the fleck of the drizzle
on your flesh,
with the dog's whimper,
the thunder doesn't frighten,
the readiness is all;
what follows at your feet
is trying to tell you
the silence is all:
it is deeper than the readiness,
it is sea-deep,

The silence
is stronger than thunder,
we are stricken dumb and deep
as the animals who never utter love
as we do, except
it becomes unutterable
and must be said,
in a whimper,
in tears,
in the drizzle that comes to our eyes
not uttering the loved thing's name,
the silence of the dead,
the silence of the deepest buried love is
the one silence,
and whether we bear it for beast,
for child, for woman, or friend,
it is the one love, it is the same,
and it is blest
deepest by loss
it is blest, it is blest.
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:08 AM on June 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

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