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Talking to Grief by Denise Levertov

Posted on Sep 22, 2008 by

A poem in which grief takes the shape of a dog in need of a home
1978

This is a short poem—three stanzas.  Five short lines, five more, and then eleven.
The first lines express—what?  Second thoughts?  Regret?  A kind of apology?

Ah, grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should trust you.

I love that grief is taking the form of a dog here.  Not the black dog of depression.  This dog here seems a so much gentler dog.  A less frightening dog.  Yet, still, a hungry one.

I just reread the last eleven lines.
Ah, a dog that knows longing.  A dog that’s been living under the porch all this time.  Close but hidden.  A dog with such longings.  Who knew?

You long for your real place to be readied
before winter comes. You need
your name,
your collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders,
to consider my house your own
and me your person
and yourself
my own dog.

I love that: my own dog.

I wonder how the “I” of the poem got to this place.
Where she came to know that the dog needed a name.
And a person to attach itself to.
And a place in the house.
A rightful place.

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See also:

A bio of Denise Levertov at Poets.org

At One Year of Writing and Healing, a brief piece on Rumi’s poem, The Guest House, a poem in which:  “This being human is a guest house./ Every morning a new arrival.”