Thursday, October 2, 2014

A poem for national poetry day.

It may be that I only realised that it was national poetry day this evening listening to some suitably themed thing on radio 4, but that doesn't make it to late to share a poem I'm fond of. It's Norman MacCaig's 'Praise of a Collie', I found it in an anthology a while ago and not long after my father had had to have his old sheep dog put down (she was much loved, but not at all well) I thought he'd like it until I got to the last verse when I realised that it might be a bit soon. It's stuck with me though so here it is - it doesn't have a happy ending, I cry every time I read it - I hope that's enough of a warning.

She was a small dog, neat and fluid —
Even her conversation was tiny:
She greeted you with bow, never bow-wow.

Her sons stood monumentally over her
But did what she told them. Each grew grizzled
Till it seemed he was his own mother's grandfather.

Once, gathering sheep on a showery day,
I remarked how dry she was. Pollóchan said, 'Ah,
It would take a very accurate drop to hit Lassie.'

And her tact — and tactics! When the sheep bolted
In an unforeseen direction, over the skyline
Came — who but Lassie, and not even panting.

She sailed in the dinghy like a proper sea-dog.
Where's a burn? — she's first on the other side.
She flowed through fences like a piece of black wind.

But suddenly she was old and sick and crippled ...
I grieved for Pollóchan when he took her for a stroll
And put his gun to the back of her head.


  1. So sad but also really beautiful in capturing the dog in motion. And there is that moment when you realise that your pet (or, indeed, a family member) is "suddenly" old... I'm glad you posted this, despite the ending, as it is a beautiful poem.

  2. It's the ending which makes it for me, not what I expected when I first read it, but I keep coming back to it.