Poetry by Henry Richmond
Analysed by Mathilde Hirth
At last I chose to meet
that final, trusting glance,
before your grace and energy
were distilled into a sculpture
still warm, that stands in the
great halls we keep
to visit when it’s dark.
Our pain necessitates
loving words of silk to
tide you over into your form,
where you remain so peacefully,
still warm; we stand around
of brown eyes and laughter
the day your flesh was turned to stone.
Man’s best friend, always by my side
Dog is a subtle poem, a humble poem, it is a short poem, but it is conveying big contrasts and big feelings. In just two paragraphs what seems be a moment of looking your pet in the eye is extended to a story of loss, love and everlasting affection to man’s best friend.
What I think the author captures so elegantly is the different levels of time, creating a nostalgic atmosphere about wanting someone to stay forever. Still this is not possible. The dog’s glance is “final” and he “remain(s)” in the hallway like something static and frozen in time, like a sculpture. We even envision the sculpture physically standing in the hallway, but it is not the dog, it is just his “grace and energy”. Even though the dog’s time on earth has stopped, his energy has become the whole essence of the place and the hallway encompasses this warmth that greets the master every time he walks in.
Dog is not a poem about death, but about the feeling of a still existing presence after someone is gone. Through the repetition of “still warm” we can find associations to both the physical warmth of the dog as we give his tummy a cuddle and stroking his hair. As well, the warmth a pet’s presence does to a human. The cold and impersonal associated with the sculpture stand in stark contrast to the repeated use of “warm” alluding to something alive. The contrast is evident in the last line where “flesh” and “stone” are placed together as a juxtaposition and the quick transition surprises us. His death feels sudden and the use of the word “turned” makes it something forced. He is turned into something unfamiliar, something not full of life anymore.
The poem never describes the whole dog, it is never said to that he is looking up at us, but with the continued focus on the eyes, the trusting glance, I immediately envision a Labrador wagging his tail. It does not need a more extensive description; it is an event we are familiar with. It is a simple and flippant event. Something we might take for granted, but since it happens every day, when it is gone, we notice it. This mundane moment is made into the most memorable part of the day and what we miss the most: That swift recollection of love and unconditional friendship which also makes the poem pinpoint one of the fragile and vulnerable parts of being human.
The first verse line starts with “at last” and we are introduced to a time outside of the poem, a time of waiting and apprehension that has come to an end. At last the owner face up to a moment he is dreading and we understand this is his last goodbye. The fact that the hallway is dark enhances the sadness and melancholy. It also shows how these are feelings that need to be dealt with outside of daylight, away from possible interruptions and in isolation. This is a private moment between two friends expressing the importance of their relationship.
In just two paragraphs Dog is no longer just about a hallway, a dog and an owner. It is a poem about the inevitable passing of time, the missing and longing that comes with it, but it is also about the belief in something stable that will last forever, no matter what: It is about love. The unconditional love that makes up your home. It is what makes this poem “still
My own work is self-labelled as documentary photography, out of a lack of a better title. By carrying a camera daily, I aim to embody the spirit of the Brownie in making the means to photography ready to me at every moment, without obstruction – by doing so, I can take a photograph of anything that captures my eye and interests me enough to preserve. Any of us can do this these days, with a camera readily available in our pockets around the clock – and many of us do so without even thinking about it. Next time you take your phone out to take a photograph, whether it is of your friends or of something that caught your eye, think about how you are participating in the act of documenting your life through photography. Make prints of your favourites, display them on your walls, share them with your friends and family. Follow the tradition of those who came before you and took their own snapshots documenting their lives. Everyone is a documentary photographer today, and this is a good thing.