REVIEW Doggone good (and timeless) poetry featured
By CONNIE BLOOM
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
"The Dog in British Poetry"; Chronicle Books ($14.95)
Anglophiles are sure to recall their college lit classes and experience warm memories reading "The Dog in British Poetry."
It is an elegant, whimsical anthology of writings celebrating man's best friend from ink-stained luminaries better known for other things.
The collection of more than 200 poems was first published in 1893 and includes works by Geoffrey Chaucer, William Wordsworth, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Blake, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Jonathan Swift and yes, William Shakespeare, among others. They represent the height of English poetry in the 19th century, written without the benefit of standardized spelling.
"My goodness! How the dogs do zweep along, A-poken out their pweinted noses' tips," wrote William Barnes in "The Heare."
It may be a surprise to some of you that these titans of literature doted on the affable, endearing and comic personalities of canines. But why? Dogs are equipped with internal public relations savvy and were running the show long before the 21st century got ahold of them.
Prolific anthologist Robert Maynard Leonard has endured a great deal of literary ridicule to bring this book to the "great dog-loving public," according to the publisher. It is the first anthology of poetry about dogs.
We understand Leonard's devotion. Some people will want this book on their shelves for mere appearances, but others will savor it. Poetry lovers will find the language of yesteryear stimulating and challenging and can dig up further illumination in the appendix of scholarly notes.
The indexes in the back, one organized by breed, another by the dogs' given names, make it easy to sleuth out answers to your beer bets:
Who wrote about a dog named Echo? (Shakespeare)
Rocket? (Henry Charles Leonard)
Pug? (William Somervile)
Phillis? (Robert Southey)
And from an index of first lines, here are a few snippets. From "A Proud Boast" by Thomas Blacklock:
"I never barked when out of season;
"I never bit without a reason;
"I ne'er insulted weaker brother;
"Nor wronged by force or fraud another" ...
Dog moms and dads can relate to this one, a mere two lines, from "On the Collar of Tiger" by Jonathan Swift:
"Pray steal me not; I'm Mrs. Dingley's,
"Whose heart in this four-footed thing lies."