If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Praise of a Collie

One of my favourite poems. It's just popped into my mind.

Praise of a Collie

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. Pollochan said, "Ah,
It would take a very accurate drop to hit Lassie."

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 Pollochan when he took her a stroll
And put his gun to the back of her head.

Norman MacCaig (1910-1996)

I first came across this poem when I was teaching a poetry anthology to a group of 15-year-olds for what was then GCE O-level. I loved it from the first time I read it, and everything of MacCaig's that I have read since has confirmed that opinion. He has an ability (not unique, but very welcome) of being easily accessible to the young but with plenty to engage the adult reader. He writes lyrically and sharply. None of it is deliberately difficult, which is not to say that it is bland or dumbed-down. The guy just had a way with words - look at the image 4 lines from the end. Those 10 words have stayed with me since I first read them. And the last stanza never fails to bring a lump to the throat.

More of it here, if you are interested.


  1. Joel Goodchild28 June 2012 at 21:25

    Hey man,
    I discovered MacCaig after watching a bbc documentary on him, have loved everything I've read since, and lent an anthology of his to a friend. You mention his ability of being easily accessible to the young. I was wondering whether you could direct me towards some other poets who possess it. Thus far haven't come across anyone I've liked as much as MacCaig

  2. Hi Joel, and welcome. I can suggest a few other poets that I like in the same way, with a suggested 'starter' poem for each. But it's all a very individual thing - take these as you find them, and if you like them perhaps explore more of the poet.

    Edwin Muir (The Horses)
    Stevie Smith (Not Waving But Drowning)
    Louis MacNeice (Snow)
    Ted Hughes (The Thought-Fox)

    Try these and see how you like them. They are all easy to understand, but profound enough to engage the intellect.

    Come back and tell us what you think.


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