A Canine Celebration for Mary Oliver’s Birthday

“Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor as well as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born. What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs?” ~ Mary Oliver

Today, in honor of Mary Oliver’s 86th birthday, I’m sharing several tender and affecting tail waggers from Dog Songs (Penguin Press, 2013) and Red Bird (Beacon Press, 2009).

Even now, it’s easy to imagine Mary roaming the woods, fields, and shore with her faithful canine companions Luke, Benjamin, Bear, Sammy, Ricky, and especially Percy, for whom she seemed to have held special affection.

Mary Oliver with her dog, Ricky, at her home in Hobe Sound, FL (2013)

Simple, unadorned words, maximum emotional resonance. She wrote about dogs and humans, but it was always about so much more.

*

“Percy” by John Burgoyne
PERCY

Our new dog, named for the beloved poet,
ate a book which unfortunately we had
     left unguarded.
Fortunately it was the Bhagavad Gita,
of which many copies are available.
Every day now, as Percy grows
into the beauty of his life, we touch
his wild, curly head and say,

“Oh, wisest of little dogs.”

*

PERCY, WAITING FOR RICKY

Your friend is coming, I say
to Percy and name a name

and he runs to the door, his
wide mouth in its laugh-shape,

and waves, since he has one, his tail.
Emerson, I am trying to live,

as you said we must, the examined life.
But there are days I wish

there was less in my head to examine,
not to speak of the busy heart. How

would it be to be Percy, I wonder, not
thinking, not weighing anything, just running forward.

*

“Ricky” by John Burgoyne
THE WICKED SMILE

“Please, please, I think I haven’t eaten
for days.”

What? Ricky, you had a huge supper.

“I did? My stomach doesn’t remember.
Oh, I think I’m fading away. Please
make me breakfast and I’ll tell you
something you don’t know.”

He ate rapidly.

Okay, I said. What were you going to
tell me?

He smiled the wicked smile. “Before we
came over, Anne already gave me my breakfast,”
he said.

Be prepared. A dog is adorable and noble.
A dog is a true and loving friend. A dog
is also a hedonist.

*

Mary with Percy
"FOR I WILL CONSIDER MY DOG PERCY"

For I will consider my dog Percy.

For he was made small but brave of heart.

For if he met another dog he would kiss her in kindness.

For when he slept he snored only a little.

For he could be silly and noble in the same moment.

For when he spoke he remembered the trumpet and when 
     he scratched he struck the floor like a drum.

For he ate only the finest food and drank only the 
     purest of water, yet would nibble of the dead fish also.

For he came to me impaired and therefore certain of 
     short life, yet thoroughly rejoiced in each day.

For he took his medicines without argument.

For he played easily with the neighborhood’s bull 
     mastiff.

For when he came upon mud he splashed through it.

For he was an instrument for the children to learn 
     benevolence upon.

For he listened to poems as well as love-talk.

For when he sniffed it was as if he were being 
     pleased by every part of the world.

For when he sickened he rallied as many times as
     he could.

For he was a mixture of gravity and waggery.

For we humans can seek self-destruction in ways 
     he never dreamed of.

For he took actions both cunning and reckless, yet 
     refused always to offer himself to be admonished.

For his sadness though without words was 
     understandable.

For there was nothing sweeter than his peace 
     when at rest.

For there was nothing brisker than his life when 
     in motion.

For he was of the tribe of Wolf.

For when I went away he would watch for me at 
     the window.

For he loved me.

For he suffered before I found him, and never 
     forgot it.

For he loved Anne.

For when he lay down to enter sleep he did not argue 
     about whether or not God made him.

For he could fling himself upside down and laugh 
     a true laugh.

For he loved his friend Ricky.

For he would dig holes in the sand and then let 
     Ricky lie in them.

For I often see his shape in the clouds and this is a 
     continual blessing.


*

I ASK PERCY HOW I SHOULD LIVE MY LIFE

Love, love, love, says Percy.
And hurry as fast as you can
along the shining beach, or the rubble, or the dust.

Then, go to sleep.
Give up your body heat, your beating heart.
Then, trust.

~ from Redbird: Poems (Beacon Press, 2009)

*

Mary with Ricky

NOTES

  1. Ricky, a Havanese rescue, was Mary’s last dog.
  2. Percy (2002 – 2009) was a Bichon Frise rescue.
  3. “For I Will Consider My Dog Percy” was inspired by Christopher Smart’s poem, “For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry.” ‘The lines in italics, except for the exchange of names and altering of verb tense from present to past, are Christopher Smart’s own, and in that way are acknowledged to be so.’

Here’s Mary reading another poem from Dog Songs:

*

“Sammy” by John Burgoyne

♥️ Please share a favorite dog memory, or a little tidbit about the dog who lives with you now.

*

The lovely and talented Tricia Stohr-Hunt is hosting the Roundup at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Pad on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up around the blogosphere this week. Sit, stay, roll over, and have a good weekend.


*Copyright © 2021 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

58 thoughts on “A Canine Celebration for Mary Oliver’s Birthday

  1. Oh, my goodness, that last poem…so sad and beautiful and noble. Thank you for these, Jama. I’m still feeling the loss of my dog since May. She and Percy would have gotten along wonderfully. It helps to read these poems. I miss her so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had a cat who passed two years ago. I miss him still!❤️ However, I have 3 grand dogs, Mei Mei, Shelly and Severino. When I visit my daughter, they greet me at the door like I am the most special person in the world! I love all three, but Shelly has my heart! They are all rescue dogs!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh what sheer delight to read these poems. I could ‘see’ our oh so loved Taliesin. He was a DOG: a handsome chocolate brown Curly-coated Retriever of huge proportions. Tally was unleashed on one of our walks. It was along a narrow track & we were nearing a lady coming the opposite way. My husband in his ‘command’ voice called “Stay”, at which word the lady stood completely stock still. We didn’t laugh until we were at a safe distance past her.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t have a dog anymore yet still can call up the feel of each of their coats & their love for the family, never failing. I have Dog Songs. Mary Oliver can write no wrong words! While she can be poignant & serious, she can make us laugh out loud, too: “Oh, I think I’m fading away”. Thanks, Jama.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, you are so right — it’s nice to come across her humorous poems. I love the conversations she had with her dogs. Of course they understood English perfectly well and could speak it (good vocabulary). And their personalities shine through when she writes about them.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for launching back into Poetry Friday with Mary Oliver and dogs. It’s good to remember that mixed with the great grief of loss are the great (and numerous small) joys.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh what wonderful memories you have given to me today by sharing these poems. We were privileged to be the second (or, in one case, third) but in all cases, forever, family to three wonderful puppers. Thank you for sharing these poems. Because of this post, I’ve ordered this collection to give as a gift.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw, so nice to hear, Lauri. Dogs live to please their owners. One can never have too much in the way of doggie joy — which is why so many have adopted dogs since the pandemic began.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh, such a wonderful selection of poems! Today, I especially love “there are days I wish /
    there was less in my head.” Thank you! I must read Dog Songs again–later, because Rosy is nudging me, her nose under my elbow, ready to get outside & explore. Every day is new!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Lovely post, Jama. I’ll add this book to my “must buy” list. Echo, my Sheltie, was our child, a furry genius who understood the word “walk” in several languages and who once took a nip at Michael’s pant leg while they were chasing each other around the yard. Michael called those pants his “hound’s tooth design pants.”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. One of my favorite collections, and favorite poets whose Percy line, “Tell me you love me, tell me again,” we whisper here, together, me and my poodles.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. How I love Mary Oliver, and how I love dogs! I have three at the moment – I would have more if I could. My father died when I was 13; to me he was the only one in my family who truly loved me unconditionally. My mother never hugged or comforted me nor my sisters. So many people came to our house and I just wanted to lie in a puddle on the floor and die. I snuck out back, and our dogs quietly surrounded me and leaned on me. I immediately felt calmer; I felt loved. I was so unhappy when someone came out and fussed at me for not being there for the guests and made me go in. The dogs knew my heart, my sorrow so much better than anyone else.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing this touching memory, Jan. Dogs are beautifully instinctive and empathic, aren’t they? I’m glad they were there to comfort you when you needed it most.

      Like

    1. So glad I got to meet Jefferson that time at your house. He was an unforgettable dog. Glad you enjoyed Oliver’s poems. I marvel at how she can emote in so few words.

      Like

  11. I’m ‘paws’itive my Smidgey would go ‘mutts’ over this post, Jama. If she knew how to read…which she might. Because she writes. Usually better than me. But not better than Mary Oliver. SHE is the best. Thanks for the ‘ultimutt’ post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I am still so in love with Mary Oliver’s poems and this post just warms my heart all over. My daughters with their husbands and dogs (one cat) have been living in our home for 10 days after Hurricane Ida. Let’s not forget the 2 yr. old who can call them all by name and lines them up for their daily Milkbone dog treats. It’s been a wild and crazy time that I will hold onto forever, so precious and special, dogs and all!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Welcome back, Jama. It is so good to have you up and running with such lovely dog poems. While I do not have pets in the house (husband is allergic), the dogs and cats in my community are fun to talks with and pet. The line from one of the poems that I just love is: For I often see his shape in the clouds and this is a
    continual blessing.
    My friend just passed away and I immediately thought of her when I read these lines. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed the poems, Carol. Nice to hear from you again. That’s a beautiful, comforting line and I can see why you thought of your friend. Sorry for your loss.

      Like

  14. Thanks for this bliss-filled post full of Mary Oliver and her doggies, I loved each one! I especially liked “FOR I WILL CONSIDER MY DOG PERCY” it read to me like a prayer or psalm so heartfelt and releasing. And, “I ASK PERCY HOW I SHOULD LIVE MY LIFE”

    “Love, love, love, says Percy.”
    And hurry as fast as you can”

    Yes, to love, but too bad we have to hurry so fast… I loved all the drawings and pics of her doggies too! I love dogs, we had to wait till we were old enough to take care of one before my mom would allow one. Our doggies name was Max, and he was a 20 lb ball of fluff before trimmed–a mix of sheep dog, poodle, collie and schnauzer, and probably more. I think I was the only one who brushed him and when I moved out off went his gorgeous locks… Unfortunately we don’t have a dog now, maybe in the future… Lovely post Jama, and so happy to have you return 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Michelle, thanks for telling us about Max. He does sound like a very furry guy. When I was younger I wanted a sheep dog because Paul McCartney had one (Martha, my dear . . . ). Now I admire other people’s dogs from afar (saves on the vet bills). 😀

      Like

  15. Oh, Jama, what wonderful selections. My sister and her husband just lost one of their three dogs (they had three 13-yr old Yorkies; two are still doing well). I’m going to send them Dog Songs today.

    Our dog, a border collie/Australian shepherd mix, is also 13 years old. She was a rescue, and we’ve had her for 11 years. It took her a long time to trust Atticus. Initially, she got upset every time he went downstairs into our basement — I shudder to think of what our sweet doggo went through before we met her. But he finally gained her trust. She is the absolute sweetest dog in the world, if a bit neurotic and obsessive-compulsive. 🙂 But that’s okay — we think she fits right into our family. We get her. 🙂

    Thanks for the inspiration to send this gift today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry to hear about your sister’s dog, Karen. I’m sure she’ll find comfort in Dog Songs. Enjoyed hearing about your dog and how it took her awhile to trust Atticus. You never know with rescues. Fascinating at how dogs have personalities and issues just like people . . .

      Liked by 1 person

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