Reub's journey

20 February 2012


How to be happy in these days of low light and mud? Sometimes a poem explains things better than I ever could. I love this and wish I had written it.

Well, at least I took the photo

Michael Van Welleghan

Weep for what little things could make them glad.
—Robert Frost, "Directive"

     the large collie
who lives in the red house
at the end of my daily run
is happy,
     happy to see me
even now,
     in February—
a month of low skies
and slowly melting snow.

His yard
     has turned almost
entirely to mud—
          but so what?

     as if to please me,
he has torn apart
          and scattered
     a yellow plastic bucket
the color of forsythia
or daffodils . . .

          And now,
in a transport
          of cross-eyed
muddy ecstasy,
          he has placed
his filthy two front paws
     on the top pipe
of his sagging cyclone fence—

drooling a little,
          his tail
wagging furiously,
          until finally,
as if I were God's angel himself—

with news of the Resurrection,
I give him a biscuit

Which is fine with Melvin—
who is wise,
     by whole epochs
of evolution,
     beyond his years.

     what you can get,
that's his motto . . .

          And really,
apropos of bliss,
and the true rapture,
          what saint
could tell us half as much?

Even as he drops
          back down
into the cold
          dog-shit muck
he'll have to live in
          every day
for weeks on end perhaps
unless it freezes . . .

whining now,
     as I turn away
     to leave him there

the same today
          as yesterday—

one of the truly wretched
of this earth
     whose happiness
is almost more
          than I can bear.

From  In the Black Window: Poems New and Selected, 2004, University of Illinois Press
Audio of the author, a poet laureate of Illinois, reading this poem


  1. wow. what a poem!

    and your image is great! i saw one almost like it yesterday on latebloomerbuds blog - she called it 'nature's glistening whisk'. :)

  2. Wonderful poem, in spite of the line 'the truly wretched'.

    It's a new poem to me and I will explore the poet.

    Love your gorgeous picture.

  3. Does labeling another being as truly wretched enhance one's own stature? I loved the rest of the poem.

  4. Thanks all, for reading. Most people are impatient with blog posts that contain poetry, and they just don't bother with them.

    The phrase "truly wretched" does stand out, but I take it to describe the conditions in which this creature lives: mud, shit, and neglect. Pretty wretched. The idea that shards of yellow plastic may be daffodils to him, or that the daily dry biscuit is from the hand of a flaming angel...that he can find joy in the squalor...that's what brings me to tears every time I read this.
    Melvin's life is certainly wretched, but, as you point out, he is not. That's why this poem is poignant. Without the word "wretched" in here, I'm not sure the last line would have the same impact.

  5. I LOVE this! Thank you for sharing. I'm going to read it to Bill now. Yes. It's Bill-worthy.

  6. Have you read Merle's Door by Ted Kerasote? You'll love it, I bet!

  7. Wow!

    The poem says it all, but your photo is incredible. Spring is on its way. xx

  8. Patience: You know, I must agree with you here. This is Bill-worthy, unlike most of my blather.

    Pauline: I haven't! I hardly ever read animal fiction/non-fiction. But I do read poetry that includes dogs and other creatures. That way, the pain is more short-lived.

    Reya: If you like the photo, then I am so pleased. Your photos from DC blow me away on a daily basis.


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