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Dog Songs: Poems

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Poetry (2013)
Mary Oliver's Dog Songs is a celebration of the special bond between human and dog, as understood through the poet's relationship to the canines that have accompanied her daily walks, warmed her home, and inspired her work. Oliver's poems begin in the small everyday moments familiar to all dog lovers, but through her extraordinary vision these observations become higher meditations on the world and our place in it.

Dog Songs includes visits with old friends, like Oliver's beloved Percy, and introduces still others in poems of love and laughter, heartbreak and grief. Throughout, the many dogs of Oliver's life emerge as fellow travelers and guides, uniquely able to open our eyes to the lessons of the moment and the joys of nature and connection.

127 pages, Hardcover

First published October 8, 2013

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About the author

Mary Oliver

86 books6,100 followers
Mary Jane Oliver was an American poet who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Her work is inspired by nature, rather than the human world, stemming from her lifelong passion for solitary walks in the wild.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,713 reviews
Profile Image for Carmen Ambrosio.
Author 3 books4 followers
November 5, 2013
I shared this book with my dog Sam. Here is his review:

Pawfect Poems

I spent some of Sunday peering over Mistress Carmen's shoulder as she read Dog Songs. It's obvious to me that Puplitzer (or whatever the prize name is) poet and devoted dog mom Mary Oliver has deciphered the canine communications code. Doggie fans will feel the human-dog love and mutual admiration she describes throughout her latest book.

After reading Miss Mary's tales of her dogs romping in the sand and surf unleashed, I may have to rethink my reluctance to dip any part of my fur into any beach or river in the future. Water to me used to be only for drinking and, thankfully, never tasted like salt or anything else. I wasn't a fan at all of hoses, puddles, or raindrops. Naturally, my schnoz began to twitch when she wrote about her small dog's hunt for dead fish and all things supremely stinky. Way to go, fellow nose connoisseur!

I suggest you get your paws on Dog Songs to enjoy alone or while nuzzling with your favorite furry one(s) by your side.

Meanwhile, I plan to translate the book into Doglish for the rest of my pooch pals who, like me and Miss Mary's beloved pooch Percy, now reside in the sky.
June 27, 2018
The good:
Or maybe it’s about the wonderful things that may happen if you break the ropes that are holding you. (c)
He shrugged his shoulders casually and
smiled. “Je suis un chien du monde,”
he said. (c)
Listen, a junkyard puppy
learns quickly how to dream.
Listen, whatever you see and love—
that’s where you are. (c)
Some things are unchangeably wild, others are stolidly tame. The tiger is wild, and the coyote, and the owl. I am tame, you are tame. There are wild things that have been altered, but only into a semblance of tameness, it is no real change. But the dog lives in both worlds. (c)

The bad:
A puppy is a puppy is a puppy. (c)
By the time I reach him the last of the newborn field mice are disappearing down his throat. …
The mice construct thick, cupped nests deep in the grass from which they travel along a multitude of tunneled paths—to the creek perhaps, or into the orchard to find a bruised apple or a leaf of mint, or buckberries. Then they hurry home again, to the peep and swirl of their nestlings. But these babes have been crunched on Ben’s molars, have begun the descent through darkness and acids toward transformation. I hope they were well crunched. (c)

The maudlin:
I had to go away for a few days so I called
the kennel and made an appointment. I guess
Bear overheard the conversation.
“Love and company,” said Bear, “are the adornments
that change everything. I know they’ll be
nice to me, but I’ll be sad, sad, sad.”
And pitifully he wrung his paws.
I cancelled the trip. (c)
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
585 reviews325 followers
February 4, 2018
4✚ 🐶 🐶 🐶 🐶 woofing.
"The dog would remind us of the pleasures of the body with its graceful physicality, and the acuity and rapture of the senses, and the beauty of forest and ocean and rain and our own breath. There is not a dog that romps and runs but we learned from him . . .
Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is the reason why we should honor as well as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs yet not born. What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs?"

Mary Oliver writes beautiful poems that are inspired by what she loves, chief among them the beauty of our natural world and in this case, the dogs who have been her walking companions as she drinks in the inspiration all around her.
We lost our boy Paolo this past April and I haven’t even begun to stop grieving and so there were many tears. But mostly, it is a joyful tribute and poignant reading to anyone who has ever loved one. Our girl Amie reminds me everyday that forward is the only way to keep going. 🐾🐾

"Dogs die so soon. I have my stories of that grief, no doubt many of you do also. It is almost a failure of will, failure of love, to let them grow old––or so it feels. We would do anything to keep them with us, and to keep them young. One gift you cannot give."
Profile Image for Antoinette.
719 reviews32 followers
September 2, 2017
This book of poems by Mary Oliver is a homage to dogs. You can tell that she loved her dogs from what the way she writes about them. If you are a dog lover, you will most definitely enjoy this book, as I did. A favourite from one of her poems:
"For there was nothing sweeter than his
When at rest.
For there was nothing brisker than his life
In motion"
Profile Image for Barbara.
261 reviews196 followers
July 10, 2020
I am not a lover of poetry; I am a lover of dogs. Knowing Mary Oliver as a renowned poet, I thought perhaps poetry about dogs, or through their eyes, might be just the thing for me. I now love Mary Oliver. Who would not love someone who understands and loves dogs as I do. Could dogs bring me to the world of poetry? Maybe.
Profile Image for Susan Budd.
Author 6 books204 followers
October 26, 2020
I dedicate this review to all the dogs I’ve loved:

The pretty little Boston Terrier who had such delicate features for a Boston Terrier. My family’s first dog. I believe she was supposed to be my dog, but of course, she preferred to be my mother’s dog. (Dogs decide whose dogs they are. It’s not up to us.)

The Irish Setter who joined our family later. She would run laps in the shop yard next door in the early evening when the gates were shut and the sun just beginning to set. Her feathery auburn hair shining in the sun. Flashing copper.

The mutt with intelligent eyes who looked just like the dog in Benji. He was my sweetheart’s dog, not mine. A ragamuffin who loved to leap into snowdrifts, leaving behind a dog-shaped hole.

The Husky mix, once a stray, adopted by dear friends. All it took was a prescription for his Mange, a few hearty meals, and a whole lot of love to turn that shy scruffy street dog into a fun and friendly party animal. He taught me that it was rude to offer a pizza crust with no cheese on it.

And from deep in my memory, the dog who was half-wolf. Or so my grandfather would have me believe. He might really have been half-wolf. I choose to believe so. He was a gray old man when I was a bright young girl. A furry body curled up on the plastic-coated sofa. I remember his slow movements as he followed my grandfather from room to room.

Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs includes thirty-five poems and one essay. Some of the poems are drawn from Oliver’s previous books and others are new to this volume. Among the new poems are the first three which set up the theme of this collection.

The first poem, “How It Begins,” starts off with what must surely be the most cloying line ever penned by a Pulitzer Prize winning poet: “a puppy is a puppy is a puppy” (1). But I can let that slide. The thought of a puppy can reduce me to mush as well.

“How It Is with Us, and How It Is with Them” calls to mind Whitman’s poem on animals from Leaves of Grass. Whitman’s praise of animals is really a critique of human beings. Oliver’s critique of human beings is really a praise of dogs.

“If You Are Holding This Book” is the poem that reveals the theme of this collection ~ “dogs without leashes” (5) ~ and prepares for the thesis of the essay at the end of the book.

Many of the poems take the form of conversations with dogs. You’d think that would anthropomorphize the dogs, but it doesn’t. At least, not the way Oliver does it. The dogs express a canine philosophy that comes so naturally to them that it doesn’t seem at all unusual when they speak.

As a dog lover, I enjoyed these poems. Though my experience of the dogs I have loved is very different from Oliver’s, these poems reveal, not just the personalities and escapades of Oliver’s dogs, but insight into the nature of dogs. They are universal poems that go beyond Percy and Ben and the other dogs immortalized here.

The book is also beautifully illustrated by John Burgoyne. There are eleven illustrations and they are more than just decorations. They complement the poems and are integral to the pleasure of reading the book. I only wish there were more.

My one disappointment concerns the thesis of Oliver’s essay, “Dog Talk.” It is a thesis I must take issue with, for Oliver does not simply express her joy at the sight of “dogs without leashes” (5). She scorns leashed dogs in language that saddens me to read.

The other dog—the one that all its life walks leashed and obedient down the sidewalk—is what a chair is to a tree. It is a possession only, the ornament of a human life. Such dogs can remind us of nothing large or noble or mysterious or lost. They cannot make us sweeter or more kind” (119).

I must wholeheartedly disagree with every word of this. All the dogs I have loved were city dogs. Their obedience did not make them mere possessions or ornaments. Their leashes did not make them less noble or less able to make me kinder or sweeter. Their leashes kept them safe in a city that is inhospitable to unleashed dogs. Their leashes enabled them to live and thrive in an urban environment.

While it is true that leashed dogs do not have as much freedom as unleashed dogs, that does not change the nature of the dogs. It only changes the circumstances in which their nature manifests itself. They are certainly not “what a chair is to a tree.” They are as much “messengers” of the “wilderness” (117) as their unleashed cousins, for the wild heart of a dog is too big to be broken by a mere leash.
Profile Image for Whitney Atkinson.
903 reviews13.7k followers
November 20, 2017
I don't regret reading this book, it was just so bland and lacking any purpose. It was just kind of a homage to all the dogs she's owned, but since I've never met them, I really couldn't relate to it. So these were quick and lighthearted, but I had no connection to it and it didn't even really offer a broad stance on why dogs are great, it was just central to her dogs. overall, meh.
Profile Image for Alan.
379 reviews149 followers
September 22, 2021
I didn’t always want a dog. It’s a more recent development. I actually used to be scared of dogs, for no reason but the fact that I had not been exposed to many. Here in Canada, it’s a given that I will run into dogs (at least 5) on every walk, no matter the weather. In the past year, I have found myself fantasizing about getting my first dog. Unfortunately for me (or so my dog-enthusiast friends let me know) I am obsessed with beagles. Stop, I know what you will say. I won’t get a beagle for my first dog. Don’t worry. But I know I want one, maybe one day when I am more well-versed in taking care of dogs, then I can tackle the beagle issue.

This book is awesome for dog lovers – nice little set of poems that Oliver has collected from her many collections. I am not sure if it was as great as the other two collections I have read by her, but still wonderful.

Here is my favourite poem from the collection, called How It Is With Us, And How It Is With Them:

We become religious,
then we turn from it,
then we are in need and maybe we turn back.
We turn to making money,
then we turn to the moral life,
then we think about money again.
We meet wonderful people but lose them
in our busyness.
We’re, as the saying goes, all over the place.
Steadfastness, it seems,
is more about dogs than about us.
One of the reasons we love them so much.

Profile Image for jenny✨.
563 reviews773 followers
September 9, 2020
“Tell me you love me,” he says.
“Tell me again.”
Could there be a sweeter arrangement? Over and over
he gets to ask.
I get to tell.

This Sunday, I am attending a memorial for River—my best friend’s dog, soulmate, of eight years, my god-dog and best friend of just one. She passed unexpectedly one month ago, and I have not stopped thinking of her since.

I picked up this collection to find some poems I could read at her memorial; I found what I came looking for, and more. Serenity, love, and the sort of irresistible charm that is unique to mischievous, inquisitive dogs who never ask permission and only sometimes ask forgiveness: I saw Mary Oliver’s devotion to her dogs, and I caught glimpses of my own to River.

Here is Mary Oliver reading “Little Dog’s Rhapsody in the Night,” one of my favourite poems in the entire book: https://vimeo.com/76060890

Now, when I remember River, I think of this passage from “The First Time Percy Came Back”:

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.
Profile Image for Ryk Stanton.
1,179 reviews14 followers
March 27, 2014
The only things that makes anything in this book a "poem" are line breaks and stanza breaks - there is no consideration of rhyme, meter, figurative language, or anything else associated with poems. The ideas she explores in her poems are not particularly meaningful either. I actually checked Amazon to be sure this was a real book and not just some random person's chapbook of poems about dogs. It turns out that Mary Oliver is apparently someone well-liked for her writing; I just don't see it. I can write a poem of equal quality without even trying:

I am updating Goodreads on the computer
and Beau is in his cage
looking at me with sad brown eyes

"Wouldn't you rather sit on the couch
and let me put my head on your lap
so you can scratch behind my ears?" he says.

"Not right now," I tell him, "I need to
write about this book of poetry
I just finished reading."

"Tell me a story, let's write our own poem."
I let him out of the cage and invite him on the couch
and we begin reciting lyrics as we cuddle.

In short, don't waste your time on this book.
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
1,966 reviews1,387 followers
March 15, 2021
Mary Oliver is a poet I have previously adored reading from. I have, so far, consumed two of her collections, Dream Work and Upstream: Selected Essays, which both combined a focus with the natural world as well as Oliver's own personal musings and history. I felt sure to also appreciate this collection, given both my previous adoration and the chosen subject matter.

I usually find poetry anthologies are volumes I want to linger over. Here, I found the individual poems very straight-forward and with none of the lyricism I anticipated, meaning I flew through them. The contents of each poem also often featured stories of Oliver's own four-legged companions and not on a more general love for or insights into the nature of our furry friends. They were sweet and pleasing, but provided no long-lasting enjoyment for me.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the author, Mary Oliver, and the publisher, Corsair, for this opportunity.
Profile Image for Rachelle.
303 reviews71 followers
July 23, 2022
"What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs?"

I would never want to know! What a beautiful little book of pure love for a species we will never deserve, but are remarkably lucky to continue to try. ❤️🐾
Profile Image for Reading_ Tamishly.
3,970 reviews2,176 followers
January 6, 2021
This is one of the best books I have ever read👍
And that too on dogs!
And that too poetry!
*Main highlights:
✨Love the sketches of different dogs!
✨Love the different situations described
✨Love the way how everything has been written with her signature charming play of words
✨Some poems made me light, some made me feel too heavy with emotions
✨Most of the poems made me happy, made me love dogs more
I specifically loved the poems on Percy!
***Totally recommended for dog lovers!

(I just love my canine beings ...just too much.
I hope our two German Shepherds who have crossed the rainbow bridge are happy together.
I miss you two, Jackie and Junior.
I really miss giving you two belly rubs and booping your noses.

It's been more than 10 years not seeing you two.
I really miss you.)
Profile Image for Adam.
105 reviews13 followers
August 31, 2016
Near the end of Mary Oliver's most recent collection of poetry is a short essay in which she has a revelation about the titular animal, one that deserves to be reprinted in full:

But I want to extol not the sweetness nor the placidity of the dog, but the wilderness out of which he cannot step entirely, and from which we benefit. For wilderness is our first home too, and in our wild ride into modernity with all its concerns and problems we need also the good attachments of that origin that we keep or restore. Dog is one of the messengers of that rich and still magical first world. The dog would remind us of the pleasures of the body with its graceful physicality, and the acuity and rapture of the senses, and the beauty of the forest and ocean and rain and our own breath. There is not a dog that romps and runs but we learn from him.

The other dog--the one that all its life walks leashed and obedient down the sidewalk--is what a chair is to a tree. It is a possession only, the ornament of a human life. Such dogs can remind us of nothing large or noble or mysterious or lost. They cannot make us sweeter or more kind.

Only unleashed dogs can do that. 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. (117-118)

Suddenly, after over 100 pages of short verse, Oliver explains the true significance of dogs in the lives of human beings--they are a connection to our long-ago days of wildness and freedom, they are an appreciation of what a physical body can do, they exist beyond themselves--and in doing so demonstrates an understanding of her subject that is, sad to say, entirely missing from the three dozen poems that come before, in which Oliver gives herself over to blatant sentimentality and literary simplicity. There are good ideas here, all of them based on Oliver's lifetime of ownership--one dog who cannot stop breaking the ropes that bind it, another that is buried in the wilderness from which its forebearers came, a third that is "a hedonist" in its eating--but they are rendered empty by her inability to separate her own emotional attachments to each dog from the lines she writes about them. Reading her book is almost like--and excuse me for the crassness of this analogy--a lonely pet-owner reduced to boring her friends with silly stories because she has so little else to talk about.

Which is not the way it should be, and it's not the way it has to be. Oliver is a gifted writer who understands how to balance all the ingredients of poetry--emotion, personal significance, meaning, style, form--so they become a cohesive work of art. She's been doing it for decades, and about aspects of her own life--her sexuality, faith, death--that would cause other, less-skilled poets to crumble.* And yet with Dog Songs, she seems to have lost--or thrown aside--the scales that have kept her poetry in measured equilibrium for so long. For example, take "Percy Wakes Me," a poem in which Oliver literally describes being woken up by her dog, she ends her account of the morning--Percy under the covers, Percy on the kitchen counter, Percy being doted upon with delight before breakfast--by writing, "This is a poem about Percy. / This is a poem about more than Percy. / Think about it." This simple, three-line stanza violates the very foundations on which poetry is based, namely that any sort of underlying meaning does not need to be highlighted: you must trust the reader to see your meaning, as well as whatever meaning they themselves bring to the poem, and if they cannot or will not, then at least leave them with a decent poem in which they can escape for a minute or two. By concluding "Percy Wakes Me" with a winking imploration to her readers, almost like we ourselves were being trained to do some little trick for the amusement of our owner, Oliver is betraying a mistrust in her readers...a belief that, without prodding us, we won't know to look further and figure something out.

Which is not the only time Oliver does this in her collection. At the end of "Benjamin, Who Came From Who Knows Where," Oliver caps a study of the titular dog--a hound who is scared of brooms and kindling--by writing, "Benny, I say / don't worry. I also know the way / the old life haunts the new." A meaningful closing thought, to be sure, but one that not only summarizes the lines that have come before it--again, showing a complete mistrust in the abilities of her readers--but could easily be substituted with the author's own ruminations on what it's like to be haunted, thereby adding depth to her poetry and drawing connections between two differing species in a way that would add an extra level of humanity to their relationship without it being so blatant. At the end of "Bad Day," in which a dog named Ricky rips up Oliver's couch after she ignores him for most of the day, Oliver allows Ricky to speak: "Honestly, what do you expect? Like / you I'm not perfect, I'm only human." And at the end of "How A Lot of Us Become Friends," in which Oliver's Ricky meets another dog--Lucy, owned by a woman named Theresa--in the park and become friendly with each other almost immediately, Oliver comments, "So how could Theresa and I not start / on that day to become friends?"

That's not to say Oliver can't write whatever poetry she wants to; the entire point of art, after all, is to create something personal, regardless of any meaning it may or may not have to others. Art is emotional, expressive, and revealing in its own right, and we be a different person at the end of an artistic adventure, have a new understanding of ourselves or our craft...otherwise, the entire practice is pointless. It's clear from Oliver's poetry that she believes in this fully--the ability of poetry to represent our own world and experiences in new ways--and again, that's a good thing. Where Oliver runs into problems is that she has collected and published those poems without tempering her own emotional investments: they are so prevalent, so heavy, that anyone hoping to access those same emotions cannot, as Oliver's claims over them are almost impenetrable. Sure, there are places in which dog-owners and dog-lovers can see similarities to their own experiences--a lonely puppy being chosen from a basket, an attention-starved mutt ripping at furniture, an old dog falling asleep in the nooks of your arms--but the parallels to our own lives, not to mention the importance of dogs in understanding ourselves, which Oliver herself advocates, are rendered almost untouchable.

The greatest irony in Oliver's poetry is that, when taken with the revelations in her closing essay, she seems to fight back against her very own observations on what we should learn from dogs: she is keeping her poetry focused almost solely on herself, her feelings, and her experiences rather than what they teach us about ourselves. (And when she does unleash her ideas, as she does in "Percy Wakes Me" and "Benjamin, Who Came From Who Knows Where," she cannot help but tell us just what she wants us to see, learn, and understand. In a sense, she cannot let us off the leash long enough to explore on our own before the rope is back around our necks and she is leading us away from the rich, unexplored wilderness and toward the lawn she herself has manicured into soft perfection. Sure, it's a lawn--it looks and feels and smells of nature--but it's no substitute.) Oliver says that dogs are a poetry unto themselves who are devoted "not only to us" but to the great openness life, and yet she has collected a few dozen poems that do not take after the very subjects they praise.

*To see an example of Oliver's skill at balancing her poetry, see her poem "Wild Geese."


Dogs: A Poem

A dog should be wild, unkempt,
It hair slick with the dirt and dandruff
Of life among the trees;

Pick out the burrs and needles by the fire,
The mud caked in balls like
A universe of worlds along his spine,

And toss aside those manufactured toys--
A dog plays with wood and earth only,
His teeth worn down by branches that have been

Shed by trees older than you and him,
Older than the blood that runs like rivers
Through both of your tired bodies;

A dog works with paws rough with the calluses
Of his ancestors, as though he were made
To dig trenches in which he will prepare for war:

Against the creatures he does not know,
The sounds he doesn't like to hear, the loneliness
In which you will eventually leave him.

A dog works with his eyes--bright ghostly novas
Rendered as marbles in a darkness
That your own eyes will never understand;

He understands that night is what he visits
Upon the animals of the forest, and that soon
This darkness will turn its allegiances.

Let this tired warrior curl up beside you,
And let the fire of his heart compete against
The fire of your hearth, burning your skin

Like a tattoo one thousand years in the making--
A carving on a cave wall, initials in the bark of a tree,
A fortress of rock that is scarred by rain.

Tomorrow you and he will rest,
Eyes unable to see the shadows around you,
Of man and beast traipsing in from the past,

Stopping only to wipe their feet on the rug
While the man, his eyes adjusting, slides a hand
Down behind two tired ears, and scratches.

(c) 2014

Both the review and the poem were originally published at There Will Be Books Galore.
Profile Image for Keli.
506 reviews11 followers
June 14, 2022
I love all animals, dogs especially. After reading all the positive reviews, I was really excited to read this one. I hate to say, I was disappointed. I love poetry, but this wasn't as compelling as I imagined it would be. It's not bad, it's just ok. It didn't evoke the feelings in me that I expected. Others have loved it, so I am in the minority here.
Profile Image for Corey.
Author 78 books242 followers
August 4, 2013
Breezy, charming, and, for dog lovers, irresistible. "Because of the dog's joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift."
Profile Image for Jana.
768 reviews87 followers
January 8, 2016
All of my years are "dog" years, but this last one even more than most because I have cared for a beloved aged dog and let her go before her life became unbearably painful, and now I'm up at 5 am with a wriggly, full of life puppy. So it is fitting that the first book I finished in 2016 is this lovely volume of poetry by Mary Oliver about the many companions she has had over the years. Humorous, a few. Wistful, many. All of them a wonderful look into the eyes and hearts of our best furry friends.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,509 reviews2,511 followers
July 5, 2017
(2.5) So-so poems about various dogs she’s known and loved in a lifetime of pet ownership. My disappointment lies in two facts: most of these 35 poems have appeared in print before, and the text is only printed on one side of each page. The latter strikes me as a shameless attempt to make the book appear double its length (so 120 pages rather than 60). The line drawings by John Burgoyne are lovely, however, so I could see this making a suitable gift for a die-hard dog lover. Favorite individual poem: “Bazougey.”

Lines I liked:
“of all the sights I love in this world— / and there are plenty—very near the top of / the list is this one: dogs without leashes.” (from “If You Are Holding This Book”)

“A dog comes to you and lives with you in your own house, but you / do not therefore own her, as you do not own the rain, or the / trees, or the laws which pertain to them.” (from “Her Grave”)

(and, from the last paragraph of the essay that closes the book, “Dog Talk”):
“Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor as well as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born. What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs?”
Profile Image for SheriC.
677 reviews34 followers
April 16, 2017
Warning: some morbid thoughts ahead.

Mary Oliver celebrates the nature of dogs in this little book of poetry, and to a lesser extent, the nature of our relationship with our pets. I have some fundamental disagreement with her views about keeping them unleashed and letting them roam free, though. Perhaps she’s never seen someone’s pet in the road with his guts smeared on the pavement, or walked through a city animal shelter full of half-starved strays, and had to choose just one, only one, to take home, or had to watch in horror from the sidewalk as a pack of coyotes snatched her small unleashed dog from the woods at the edge of a suburban park. Perhaps she hasn’t read the articles of grandmothers being mauled by packs of loose dogs while out on a walk. From her poems, it sounds as though she lives in an idealized, Mr. Rogers-esque small seaside town where all the loose dogs are friendly and have a loving home where they’re well-fed and there are no speeding cars.

Still, there are some gems to be found in her work, and Stubbs listened attentively while I read them to him. Bells was unimpressed, though, if her snoring could be interpreted as literary criticism.

I read this for Task the Fourth: The Gift Card square, in The Twelve Tasks for the Festive Season challenge: “Read a book that you either received as a gift or have given as a gift.” I received this book as a Christmas gift last year from my sister.
Profile Image for Celia.
1,142 reviews142 followers
November 18, 2021
Sometimes I like dogs better than people-except for my husband who I adore. 💖

Mary Oliver is my all time favorite poet. Her lyrical descriptions of dogs make her even more so.

Favorite quote:

A dog comes to you and lives with you in your own house, but you do not therefore own her, as you do not own the rain, or the trees, or the laws which pertain to them.

5 stars

PS. How did I come to know Mary Oliver? A priest quoted her in a sermon. Not this particular book, however. 😂
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,027 followers
April 11, 2014
Mary Oliver is responsible for one of the poems that means a lot to me, Wild Geese. Every time I pick up a book of her poems, I am looking for a poem that I connect with on that same level.

I am often disappointed, because how often can true connection occur? Mary enjoys writing about the small parts of life - nature is a frequent theme, and in this collection, it's dogs. She loves dogs.

I love dogs too, and know my aging beagle is not going to be around much longer (we feel like we're counting months instead of years by now.) But do you know those people who entertain themselves by saying out loud what they think their dogs are thinking? That's kind of how these poems feel to me. A little too precious.

Perhaps that is because they are read by the author, who is older at this point, and it makes it feel like my grandmother is sitting in her chair, giving voice to the dog's thoughts. Sweet, clever a bit, but not any deeper meaning that I really do want to have in poetry I spend time pondering.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
136 reviews4 followers
August 3, 2015
Oliver poignantly captures the emotional bond between dog and human -- they are not just pets, but family.
Profile Image for Kelli.
844 reviews389 followers
May 10, 2019
A sweet tribute to dogs with sweet drawings.
Profile Image for Natalie.
48 reviews12 followers
October 9, 2013
I have loved Mary Oliver since college, and I have loved dogs for pretty much my entire life.

So, yes, this pairing was as glorious for me as it sounds. I went out and bought the book tonight on my work break, and I'm already done reading it. Granted, I need to sit down and give it a thorough once over, twice over, etc. And, I will.

However, I don't need to do that before I write this review because I have read everything--every word in the book, and I love it.

Mary Oliver's poetry is simple, and pure, and Dog Songs is no exception. But, the stunning way she captures the human relationship with the canine is powerful and complex, and she does it using so few words. Oliver has long been described as a nature poet-- indeed, much of her inspiration can clearly be seen as having derived from nature. And, while I have loved her poetry for many years, I always felt this odd disconnect with it-- it was good, and some of it really spoke to me, but while I enjoy nature and surely recognize its value, it's never really been my thing.

Dog Songs, however, takes everything I love about Mary Oliver and adds on top of that a deep connection with one of the things I love most in life: dogs.

It's fabulous, and I know this will be my go-to book for the first rainy sick day of the season.

If I'm being completely honest, the Ricky poems kind of missed their mark for me-- but the other poems in the book definitely make up for those. And, truthfully, even in most of those, I found some scrap I liked--something that spoke to me deeply.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
Author 1 book141 followers
August 12, 2021
It’s true that many of us who are crazy about dogs—our own, all others, the entire idea of dogness—are suckers for writing about our beloved animals. But a poet, a good poet like Mary Oliver, can put across in just a few words the answer to why we are this kind of crazy:

“A dog can never tell you what she knows from the
smells of the world, but you know, watching her,
that you know
almost nothing.”
From “Her Grave”

“Dog is one of the messengers of that rich and still magical first world. The dog would remind us of the pleasures of the body with its graceful physicality, and the acuity and rapture of the senses, and the beauty of the forest and ocean and rain and our own breath. There is not a dog that romps and runs but we learn from him.” From “The Summer Beach.”

She also uses our relationship with animals to instruct us about our human relationships. In “Ricky Talks about Talking,” we learn that it isn’t a miracle that we have an understanding with our dogs. When they talk we listen, and when we talk, they listen. According to Ricky, it’s that simple.

For me, “Percy (2002-2009)” illustrates the communication perfectly.
is called thinking.
It’s something people do,
not being entirely children of the earth,
like a dog or a tree or a flower.
His eyes questioned such an activity.
‘Well, okay,’ he said. ‘If you say so. Whatever
it is. Actually
I like kissing better.'”
Profile Image for Arianna letterarii.
156 reviews186 followers
January 2, 2022
I have tried, over the course of many days, to write something adequate about this poem collection; I’ve failed and failed again. I gave this book as a Christmas gift to one of my best friends, because I believe she’ll understand the sensibility displayed by Oliver in these poems. They are delicate verses, very clear; Oliver engages with animals directly, with great respect, as if she and the dogs shared a language.

This book is a love letter to dogs she’s had or encountered; Maxine Kumin wrote in the Women’s Review of Books that Oliver “stands quite comfortably on the margins of things, on the line between earth and sky, the thin membrane that separates human from what we loosely call animal.” As you read the collection, you enter a space of consciousness that Oliver opens up for us, where creatures communicate freely, respectfully, and lovingly. This is a poem appearing halfway through the book:

What do you say, Percy? I am thinking
of sitting out on the sand to watch
the moon rise. It’s full tonight.
So we go

and the moon rises, so beautiful it
makes me shudder, makes me think about
time and space, makes me take
measure of myself: one iota
pondering heaven. Thus we sit, myself

thinking how grateful I am for the moon’s
perfect beauty and also, oh! how rich
it is to love the world. Percy, meanwhile,
leans against me and gazes up into
my face. As though I were just as wonderful
as the perfect moon.
Profile Image for Samuel.
220 reviews28 followers
August 8, 2020
Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift…

A wonderful collection of poems beautifully read by Mary Oliver herself. The poems are crisp, accessible and at times very moving. They not only convey the simple joys of having a furry friend, but are, more fundamentally, a celebration of life and a reminder to live it to the fullest. Highly recommended (especially if you're a dog lover)!

Be prepared. A dog is adorable and noble. A dog is a true and loving friend. A dog is also a hedonist.

4.5 stars rounding up.
Profile Image for Adriana Scarpin.
1,359 reviews
January 20, 2019
Em honra de Mary Oliver (1935 - 2019)

Muito me lembrou o livro da Doris Lessing sobre seus gatos, mas aqui com cachorros, é bunitinho, mas todo mundo sabe que os verdadeiros grandes escritores são ailurófilos. Rá!
Profile Image for Márcio.
480 reviews1 follower
November 20, 2022
These poems by Mary Oliver, I believe I could call them more accurately prose in form of poetry. And they have a special place for anyone who loves animals, dogs most precisely. And Oliver brings up two topics that I believe are essential in the relationship we have with dogs.

The first one is that we might have evolved together, the species was domesticated already in pre-history when mankind was also evolving into what we are today. Thus, it is a common path we have been taking, no wonder that dogs and cats are the closest to us, three animals (because we are also animals) walking together along the path of evolution.

The second one is that many times, even though we think we have chosen our paw friends, it is actually they who have chosen us. This is why I think it is weird to hear people use the verb "to have" in relation to these little friends, dogs or cats, when actually we are the humans they have adopted 😀
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