A Dog’s Elegy

Les Murray

copyright ©2001 by Les Murray

The civil white-pawed dog who’d strain
to make speech-like sounds to his humans
lies buried in the soil of a slope
that he’d tear down on his barking runs.

He hated thunder and gunshot
and would charge off to restrain them.
A city dog too alive for backyards,
we took him the pound’s Green Dream

but now his human name melts off him;
he’ll rise to chase fruit bats and bees;
the coral tree and the African tulip
will take him up, and the prickly tea trees.

Our longhaired cat who mistook him
for an Alsatian flew up there full tilt
and teetered in top twigs for eight days
as a cloud, distilling water with its pelt.

The cattle suspect the Dog lives
but three kangaroos stood in our pasture
this daybreak, for the first time in memory,
eared gazing wigwams of fur.

Notes on the Poem

Let's take another look at Les Murray's "A Dog's Elegy". The poem comes from Murray's collection "Conscious and Verbal", a dry assessment of the poet's condition after he emerged from a three-week coma. That title evokes more emotion about survival and endurance by virtue of its deadpan delivery than if Murray had rhapsodized in some flowery way (which would be unimaginable with him anyhow) about being restored to life. In a similar fashion, this poem evinces the narrator's feelings for a departed canine companion by his straightforward account of that companion's behaviour and accomplishments, from "barking runs" to admonishing the sources of thunder and gunshot to an extended treeing of a cat. That account isn't utterly unembellished, but the choice of descriptors ("civil white-pawed" and "speech-like", for example) is understated and builds emotion because rather than in spite of being spare. The line "but now his human name melts off him" reminds us that, in fact, that name is never mentioned - as if the grief will break through if it is. Better to just refer to him as "the Dog", capitalized. "A Dog's Elegy" is sweet by being anything but. Perhaps just like the dog to which the poem pays tribute, the poem itself is memorable by eschewing overt effects demanding that you remember it. This reader won't soon forget the dog whose greatest signal of respect came from three "eared gazing wigwams of fur."

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