THERE ARE, needless to say, more good dogs than there are good dog poems, which is a mercy, since of competent dog lyric there are few.
And you might well question whether anything called Good Dog Peoms is worth reading. Through no fault of the compiler, William Cole, but simply because there is nothing to compile.
And yet, even among the tares, one finds wheat. Like this:
"Motto for a Dog House," by Arthur Guiterman: I love this little house because It offers, after dark, A pause for rest, a rest for paws, A place to moor my bark.
That is greater reward then you reasonably expect from most books you pick up. And there is more:
You would expect to find, and you do, Shakespeare's exquisite hymn to the basset hound from A Midsummer Night's Dream . My hounds are bred out of the Spartan kind, So flewed, so sanded; and their heads are hung With ears that sweep away the morning dew; Crook-kneed and dew-lapped like Thessalian bulls, Slow in pursuit, but matched in mouth like bells, Each unto each. . . .
And so on. The symmetry here is not unexpected: the preeminent poet singing of the preeminent dog. But though nothing else approaches these lines, still the gruff plain Newfoundland is honored too, if by a lesser genius (Lord Byron):
"Near this spot are deposited the remains of one who possessed beauty without vanity, strength without insolence, courage without ferocity, 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 'Boatswain,' a dog who was born at Newfoundland, May, 1803, and died at Newstead Abbey, Nov. 18, 1808."
A lesser man singing a lesser dog; but superb, all the same.
Eugene McCarthy, who turned to Parnassus after the hurly-burly of Capitol Hill, is represented by a pleasant sad poem warning us not to be the dogs of Santiago -- those poor lost dogs who trot forever, having no habitation nor no name.
Many well-known writers are here, including E. B. White who is somewhat on the light and insubstantial side in his catalogue of dogs -- a list that conspicuously omits some of the most noble breeds -- and which winds up with this: Lots of people have a rug. Very few have a pug.
Greater poets have had greater subjects. Still, it's about as good as you're going to find, Pegasus-wise, on the pug.
Several folk songs are printed here ("I Had a Dog and His Name Was Blue," for instance) and the charming "Hound on the Church Porch," in which Robert P. Tristram Coffin points out a man in church listening to a sermon in New England is getting greater spiritual vibrations from the sound of his hound thumping his tail out out on the church porch.
Dalmatians, it is commonly agreed, have poor dispositions except around fire engines -- I had a naval uncle whose Dalmatian bit anybody in a sailor suit -- and I believe fairness and balance are served by Robert Beverly Hale's verse, "Denise," which is about "my raisin-bread Dalmatian,/ Denise of the delicate crossed paws." The Dalmatian in our family was named Plum Duff, for a sort of pudding with lumps of dark stuff in it, which sailors used to call "spotted dog" when it was endlessly served to them on ships. Spotted dog, get it?
Max Beerbohm, a man who never should have been let loose, contributes "Brave Rover," about a dog who kept eating people ("polished off Uncle Charles," etc.) and this work does not represent the Dog as Man's Best Friend, but I do not consider it an attack on the typical sparkling dog, nor, for that matter, a dog poem at all. I think Beerbohm was merely being vicious about the Pre-Raphaelite poets and their delicacy, as you may guess from this line from "Rover," about one of the animal's victims:
"And wept. (I heard him weep.)"
Beerbohm could be pretty snotty when he wished.
A couple of poems make the obvious point that a good bit of hell is certain to be raised in Heaven if there is any nonsense about the admission of dogs, and one poet, seized with beatific vision, plenty of cats in Paradise for them to chase.
A modest collection, falling somewhat short of Macbeth , surely. And yet we are not always in the mood for grandeur and this slight tome may fill such needs as what the dickens to get somebody in the hospital.
You might suppose that a book only half an inch thick -- and you know how much space on the page poetry wastes -- would manage to spell basset and dalmaian correctly when they are mentioned, but Charles Scribner's Sons adhere to the common publishing faith that whang-bang is the best way to set type. All editors having died throughout the entire world.
And yet as Hopkins reminds us (not represented in this collection because he never wrote about dogs and may never have seen one, actually) we who travel through this vale must find our lovely skies only between-pie mountains, and not count on it through the whole journey. And "a pause for rest, a rest for paws" is about as between-pie a mountain as we are entitled to this week.