Take a poem you love and substitute “dog” for it’s main conceit. “So much depends upon a red dog, glazed with rain water, beside the white chickens…” (A dog makes more sense than a wheelbarrow, yes?) “Because I could not stop for dog, he kindly stopped for me…” (Emily Dickinson on a bright day?) Auden: “Lay your sleeping head, my dog,/Doggish on my faithless arm…”
This is just a game I have to soften certain minutes. You know those minutes, the ones without sustaining warmth. I may have fewer of these minutes as I have a guide dog who goes with me everywhere. In a soul crushing meeting I can reach down and stroke her her, right there, under the table. This is always excellent. Then I silently add a canine “canto” or a question. What if John Keats had owned a dog? I think he’d have gotten on better with the nightingale. Paraphrasing Steve Martin’s comment on the banjo—“it’s hard to be depressed when you’re playing it”—it’s hard to meander and maunder over death when you have the company of a dog. I don’t mean to say you can’t do it. But it’s harder with a Labrador than a song bird.
Though Longfellow doesn’t say it, I like to think his Hiawatha taught people to draw their dogs.
(This is a variant game, poets who’d be better with canines.) Poor Ezra Pound: “When I carefully consider the curious habits of dogs/I am compelled to conclude/That man is the superior animal./When I consider the curious habits of man/I confess, my friend, I am puzzled.”
Ezra had acquaintances only. And was a poor judge of human character. A dog could have helped. Only beaten dogs liked Mussolini. But I digress.
Swinburne would have been better if he’d written of dogs.