“What would this world be like without dogs?” asks Mary Oliver in her newest collection of poems, Dog Songs. I, for one, do not wish to ever know the answer to that question.
In Dog Songs, through poetry and the occasional prose piece, Oliver captures moments that are treasured by dog lovers and other humans. “There is not a dog that romps and runs but we learn from him,” she writes in a piece called “The Summer Beach,” where she muses about the glories of an unleashed dog. Oliver tells of dogs she loves, meditates on the heroism and the hedonism of dogs, and mourns how soon dogs die. Always, too soon.
Mary Oliver is a master of capturing small, ordinary moments and holding them up so that we can recognize and cherish them as they pass. This is what she does in Dog Songs. She lifts up our dog friends—large or small, purebred or mixed breed, young or old. She captures them as they are—both loyal and opportunistic, tremendously loved and loving, occasionally disobedient, always with a personality and a creaturely nature of their own. Her subject here is dogs, but it is also humanity, and life. Oliver says, “How many summers does a little dog have?” and you could ask the same question about a child, or a parent, or any situation that can and will eventually change. Mary Oliver’s great gift is that she captures small moments about a specific thing that also hold true for many other things. What does it mean to know and love a dog, a person, a life? Oliver helps us to think about and live into answers for these questions.
If you love dogs or want to practice appreciating ordinary moments as they go by, Dog Songswill be a treasure for you. It is for me.