Posted by: ritagone | July 1, 2015




Mary Oliver 2008-2-8-mary-oliver-hi-res(almost 80 years old now) is one of my favorite contemporary poets, because of both what she says and the simplicity with which she says it.

Mary Oliver loves dogs, and from their stories she tells us about life, particularly in her 2013 book of poetry and short anecdotes, “Dog Songs.” (She is also a Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry – 1984 — and has won the National Book Award for Poetry in 1992. The New York Times has called her “far and away (America’s) best selling poet.”)

On a hunch, I ordered “Dog Songs” the other day from Amazon, and I picked it up casually a few mornings ago just to read a poem or two in it before settling down to read something “significant.” As it turns out, I finished “Dog Songs” because I was so enthralled with her poetry and her tender stories.

I love dogs too. And, like Oliver, I think we have a lot to learn from them, if we’ll only pay attention.

In “Dog Songs,” one of my favorite writings of Oliver’s was this one, called “Ropes.” I’m reprinting it here for you to read and enjoy.



“In the old days dogs in our town roamed freely. But the old ways changed.

One morning a puppy arrived in our yard with a length of rope hanging from his collar. He played with our dogs; eventually he vanished. But the next morning he showed up again, with a different rope attached. This happened for a number of days – he appeared, he was playful and friendly, and always accompanied by a chewed-through rope.

Just at that time we were moving to another house, which we finished doing all in one evening. A day or so later, on a hunch, I drove back to the old house and found him lying in the grass by our door. I put him in the car and showed him where our new house was. ‘Do your best,’ I said.

He stayed around for a while, then was gone. But there he was the next morning at the new house. Rope dangling. Later that day his owner appeared – with his papers from the Bideawee home, and a leash. ‘His name is Sammy,’ she said. ‘And he’s yours.’

As Sammy grew older he began to roam around the town and, as a result, began to be caught by the dog officer. Eventually, of course, we were summoned to court, which, we learned quickly. was not a place in which to argue. We were told to build a fence. Which we did.

But it turned out that Sammy could not only chew through ropes, he could also climb fences. So his roaming continued.

But except for the dog officer, Sammy never got into trouble; he made friends. He wouldn’t fight with other dogs, he just seemed to stay awhile in someone’s yard and, if possible, to say hello to the owners. People began to call us to come and get him before the dog officer saw him. Some took him into their houses to hide him from the law. Once a woman on the other end of town called; when I got there she said, ‘Can you wait just a few minutes? I’m making him some scrambled eggs.’

I could tell many more stories about Sammy, they’re endless. But I’ll just tell you the unexpected, joyful conclusion. The dog officer resigned! And the next officer was a different sort; he too remembered and missed the old days. So when he found Sammy he would simply call him into his truck and drive him home. In this way, he lived a long and happy life, with many friends.

This is Sammy’s story. But I also think there are one or two poems in it somewhere. Maybe it’s what life was like in this dear town years ago, and how a lot of us miss it.

Or maybe it’s about the wonderful things that may happen if you break the ropes that are holding you.”



I realize you’re not all dog lovers (although I ponder how can that be?), but don’t you just love the moral of this story of Sammy? Sometimes good endings to stories come to us from very obscure, surprise places. I want to break the ropes that are holding me, and I want that for you too, dear reader.


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