Do Dogs Know?

a dark design with pinkChanged is the last line of this poem, which disturbed people. Maybe verse should be disturbing. The question: Is the poem disturbing in an interesting way?

Two Dogs

Two dogs push a herd of sheep;
Though one now curls, a shaggy heap;
The other barks to wake his sleep
While sunset turns the canyon red.

An Indian blanket is the sky
As ghostly nomads settle by;
A single bark becomes a cry:
Maroon and purple shadows spread.

A playful bite, O friend arise!
And chase with me ‘neath starry skies!
Yet still he stands, the other lies;
The afterglow of day has fled.

A velvet darkness brings on sleep
Beside his friend, his pledge to keep;
He dreams of pushing woolly sheep,
Forgetting that his friend is dead.

Perceptive criticism is offered by Larry Hall, poet and former newspaper columnist. Says Larry:

“Dogs, and most other animals, have a sixth sense about death and know it when they smell it. I think the poem could be improved by altering the last line, perhaps replacing “Not knowing” with something like “Forgetting”….or words which suggests that the living dog was reliving happier times in his dreams.”

Another reader explains that elephants know death well, but will continue for a time, by prodding and poking, for reasons only elephants know for sure.

So, with regard to the poem: we have either a very dumb dog or a very dumb poet…and since we all love dogs…

The last line is changed. What do you think?

Do dogs know?

3 Responses to “Do Dogs Know?”

  1. Rbt:

    I like “Forgetting” better because of what it implies in the line. That might be like sliding into second on a clear overthrow, but then again, it flows better as well.

    Jus’ sayin’

  2. For years the last line of the poem read:
    “Not knowing that his friend is dead.”

    Then, when it went up on Mossbackdragon last year and everyone began reading it, Larry Hall urged upon me “Forgetting,” and this occasioned much controversy, generally favoring Larry’s suggestion. I called his attention to my NAIWE posting this March, and he began to doubt his correction, saying that I gave him too much credit. He felt that “not knowing” or “unknowing” or some such might yet be the best; such words allowed for ambiguity which can be very effective in verse. To which I responded:

    “I think ‘Forgetting’ is stronger. Ambiguity is useful in writing, and it can be especially poetic, allowing shades upon shades of nuance. My feeling is–the poem ends so abruptly that ‘Unknowing’ or ‘Un-knowing’ places too much burden on the reader as does the jarring ‘Not knowing.’ ‘Forgetting’ appears to work best because, being prosaic, it allows the reader to reflect upon the full import of the poem.”

    And he was satisfied, finally, with his correction. I shall forward him your commentary which, I am sure, will afford him additional satisfaction as it does me.

  3. Forgotten is much better, I think.

    It somehow reminds me of The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, in which she shares a year of the grieving process. Moments of forgetting are definitely part of it, at least for humans. As for hoping even beyond hope, that too is instinct.

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