Mary Oliver is one of America’s most popular poets, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and her books end up on bestseller lists regularly. Her latest offering, Dog Songs, offers 35 poems and an essay about (wo)man’s best friend. In a great article in Monday’s New York Times, Oliver talks about why dogs make such great subjects for verse:
“They are a kind of poetry themselves when they are devoted not only to us but to the wet night, to the moon and the rabbit-smell in the grass and their own bodies leaping forward.”
The poems in Dog Songs explore all aspects of a dog’s life, especially the interaction between the poet and her beloved pooches. But whereas much poetry makes for hard reading, Oliver’s work is straightforward and easy to understand. Rather than seeking to obscure her subjects, she illuminates them for the reader, offering new and exciting perspectives on emotions we have all felt.
As an example, here is “Percy Came Back,” about remembering a dog who has passed away:
FIRST TIME PERCY CAME BACK
The first time Percy came back
he was not sailing on a cloud.
He was loping along the sand as though
he had come a great way.
“Percy,” I cried out, and reached to him
those white curls
but he was unreachable. As music
is present yet you can’t touch it.
“Yes, it’s all different,” he said.
“You’re going to be very surprised.”
But I wasn’t thinking of that. I only
wanted to hold him. “Listen,” he said.
“I miss that too.
And now you’ll be telling stories
of my coming back
and they won’t be false, and they won’t be true,
but they’ll be real.”
And. then, as he used to, he said, “Let’s go!”
And we walked down the beach together.
What a beautiful vision of reconnecting with a lost loved one. Below, you can watch a video of Oliver reading one of the poems from the new book.