Sunday, October 13, 2013

Dogs Make Good Teachers


Several of you have probably read this Mary Oliver poem, as it showed up a few days ago in the online Writer's Almanac. She has a new book of poetry, Dog Songs, from which this poem was taken. Although this beautiful poem and the recording I made on Soundcloud which follows are somewhat disparate in their tone, the perspective remains the same. Life without dogs seems incomplete, as though you're shunning love itself and all that goes with it. Buddy remains one of my greatest teachers. I mean that. He's helped me to be a better person and I think a better poet. I still use that term, as applied to myself, rather loosely because, well, Mary Oliver.


"The Poetry Teacher"

The university gave me a new, elegant
classroom to teach in. Only one thing,
they said. You can't bring your dog.
It's in my contract, I said. (I had
made sure of that.)

We bargained and I moved to an old
classroom in an old building. Propped
the door open. Kept a bowl of water
in the room. I could hear Ben among
other voices barking, howling in the
distance. Then they would all arrive—
Ben, his pals, maybe an unknown dog
or two, all of them thirsty and happy.
They drank, they flung themselves down
among the students. The students loved
it. They all wrote thirsty, happy poems.

~Mary Oliver









The image is of Shackleton's dogs, including Samson, Shakespeare, and Surley. The book, Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition, by Caroline Alexander, remains among my all-time favorite books.


30 comments:

  1. Ah, I love Endurance as well. Dogs are great teachers - the Paws To read program at our library is a great success! Kids who are reluctant or embarrassed to read out loud in front of people will cheerfully read to the dogs, and the dogs love to snuggle up and listen. Oh, and for a good laugh I always go to the website Dog Shaming - a rogue's gallery of canine incorrigibles. :-)

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    1. Li! Good Lord, woman, where ya been? Good to see you again. I can just see that audience of dogs ... wonderful. I will check out that website .. sounds like fun.

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  2. Dogs are wonderful... Great teachers and just good for the soul. I can't imagine life without one. I also go to Dog Shaming for laughs. I also post the pics on facebook. It breaks all the politic comments...

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    1. They sure are. You do such a great service with your help transporting them to foster homes.

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  3. I pass dogs and their people every day on my neighborhood walk. They look happy together. Then I go home and my can ignores me as soon as she finishes eating. We are happy together also.

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    1. It sounds like a "marriage" made in heaven ... :)

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  4. My dogs have always been a reminder to me about the good there can be in life. I will always have one as a companion.

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    1. Yes, the good in life ... they know how to access it on a moment's notice.

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  5. I cani sono eccezionali, io ne ho tre!

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    1. Three! That sounds like great fun! It's so nice to hear from you, Simo! I love your new image.

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  6. Dogs are great reading companions. It is still warm enough for Doberwoman and me to sit on the front porch in the day's first light: I with my Kindle & coffee, she with her bone. From our shared vantage point, we can both see great distances and take in our New together.

    I loved hearing your voice!

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    1. Buddy is usually next to me, under the kitchen table as I write. Tension rises for any reason, he knows and retreats to his crate, i.e. man cave, that is when he's not on the porch surveying his kingdom.
      Yes, take in the New together ... I like that. And thanks for the comment on the reading ...

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  7. Dogs can be good for the soul, and wonderful companions, that is true.... I have to say anything like that quietly around here, as we have a cat in this household who considers herself greatly superior to creatures with waggy tails and barks! A lovely Poem, "The Poetry Teacher".

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    1. Oh, lordy, we wouldn't want to upset the cat ... I used to have cats all the time and miss them. Still debating the addition to our household. "Two's company, three's a crowd," is an adage for a reason ... :)

      What blessed students she has ...

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  8. Dogs -- some of my best friends -- barbara

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  9. At this very moment my dog Ruby is curled into a tight ball of legs and fur at my left side. She had even provided me with a soft arm rest as I type this. She is a great companion and a steadying influence of everyday life.
    I cannot imagine the perils and tough decisions that the Shackelton group had to endure. Most certainly the ultimate decision on the fate of the dogs was not made easily. The fact that the dogs were photographed shows that some one cared dearly and loved those dogs.

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    1. Oh, Steven, I love that image ... "... a steadying influence of everyday life. " Yes, that's how I feel about my Buddy. I knew from reading the book that they were very loved, and that decision must have been one of the toughest they made ... yes, a dark night, indeed. What a story ... something about it speaks to me more than I can understand ...

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  10. I did a little research and came up with this quote from Frank Wild the main dog handler for the Shackelton Expedition. "The dog’s had served their purpose and the men were genuinely sad that they had been forced to end their lives in such circumstances."

    “I have known many men who I would rather have shot, than these dogs”.


    The Expedition started out with 69 dogs and several pups were born during the voyage.

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    1. I'm so glad you did some research. I admit to a bit of a crush on Frank Wild due to his loving nature towards those dogs. I've seen photos of the pups, too, and those sweet faces are heartbreaking ... Thank you so much for these loving comments. They're deeply appreciated. A rainy autumn day here, nice to share these thoughts ...

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  11. I did see this poem on Writer's Almanac the other day as well, Teresa, and I immediately thought of you, how you were the one to introduce me to Mary Oliver, and, of course, of your Buddy. Thrilled to see it posted here, along with your read of it. Well done!

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  12. First the poem by Oliver is wonderful. The piece that you read from Shackelton's decision was hard to stomach. My dogs are an integral and critical part of my life. To do what was done in this story seems impossible. I offer no wise words here, other than I'd starve myself before I would harm my dogs. Along with my wife, my sons, a couple of friends, they are my amongst my closest companions. Their love is never ending. Their loyalty unmatched. And the warmth of their breath is welcome each and every morning when they greet me at the beginning of each new day.

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    1. I agree with you, Bill. I would do whatever was required to keep my Buddy safe and healthy. I like to think we have grown in our awareness since those times and understand better the consciousness of a dog. I debated with myself for a long time where or not to post my recording of that poem as I, too, was sick to my stomach over it, but I wanted to honor the lives of those dogs, and hope I have done so. Dogs really do have so much to teach us.

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    2. It was a good reminder Teresa. And I'm glad you not only posted this but read it (I love your voice by the way). I think it took a certain amount of courage to do this and it certainly struck a cord as evidenced by the comments above.

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    3. Thank you, Bill. It's really a beautiful poem in a very difficult-to-read kind of way. :)

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  13. "Life without dogs seems incomplete."
    That seems so true to me. It seems to me that without the experience of the love of a good dog, we haven't had the benefit of the full measure of love.

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    1. Yes, "the full measure of love." Perfectly put.

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  14. Courageously read. Sounded as I'm sure the author meant it to sound.

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