Billy Collins: Two poems about what dogs think (probably)

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s been a spate of books that have come out lately contemplating or speculating on the cognition and emotional life of dogs. Do they think, do they feel and, if so, how? So this afternoon, in my limited time, I wanted to take the guesswork out of a lot of that by introducing you to two dogs, both of whom have taken the command “speak” quite literally. The first dog is the first to go, and he is contemplating an aspect of his relationship to his owner, and the title is “A Dog on His Master.” “As young as I look, I am growing older faster than he. Seven to one is the ratio, they tend to say. Whatever the number, I will pass him one day and take the lead, the way I do on our walks in the woods, and if this ever manages to cross his mind, it would be the sweetest shadow I have ever cast on snow or grass.” (Applause) Thank you. And our next dog speaks in something called the revenant, which means a spirit that comes back to visit you. “I am the dog you put to sleep, as you like to call the needle of oblivion, come back to tell you this simple thing: I never liked you.” (Laughter) “When I licked your face, I thought of biting off your nose. When I watched you toweling yourself dry, I wanted to leap and unman you with a snap. I resented the way you moved, your lack of animal grace, the way you would sit in a chair to eat, a napkin on your lap, a knife in your hand. I would have run away but I was too weak, a trick you taught me while I was learning to sit and heel and, greatest of insults, shake hands without a hand. I admit the sight of the leash would excite me, but only because it meant I was about to smell things you had never touched. You do not want to believe this, but I have no reason to lie: I hated the car, hated the rubber toys, disliked your friends, and worse, your relatives. The jingling of my tags drove me mad. You always scratched me in the wrong place.” (Laughter) “All I ever wanted from you was food and water in my bowls. While you slept, I watched you breathe as the moon rose in the sky. It took all of my strength not to raise my head and howl. Now, I am free of the collar, free of the yellow raincoat, monogrammed sweater, the absurdity of your lawn, and that is all you need to know about this place, except what you already supposed and are glad it did not happen sooner, that everyone here can read and write, the dogs in poetry, the cats and all the others in prose.” Thank you. (Applause)

47 thoughts on “Billy Collins: Two poems about what dogs think (probably)

  1. This is stupid! the first one; dogs have no concept the length of lifetimes, and the second dog; any vet would tell you that dogs do sometimes have depression, but it tends to be quite obvious. stupid arty bullshit!

  2. Here's what ALL dogs think:  That human gives me food, I won't bite him, I will wag my tail. That human doesn't give me food, I'll take a nap.

  3. This is a poem about what dogs think that we think (almost definitely)
    Woof! Woof!-Bark….Bark?
    Woof-Lick own Genitals-Sick up Grass?

  4. My dog Bash, is 3 and full of life. He's good. Seriously this guy makes me laugh nearly every day and I can tell he enjoys it. I'm not sure what that say's about him or me but I sure am grateful and I enjoy making him happy. Bash, is good people. He's informed by more than instinct and experience it seems.

  5. you want a good laugh with british comedy concerning dogs thats on the racy side. Watch a youtube video titled; Dogs are evil and must be destroyed.

  6. Here's what I imagine most dogs think "OH HI! How are you, hi! Let's be friends, wanna be friends? We're friends. Hey what's that over there? Wanna go on a walk?  Wanna give me food?  Oh, what's that there?"

  7. Reading the comments, I see some people have no appreciation for anthropomorphizing & somewhat whimsical humor. Yes, we must always be serious & literally accurate. Especially poetry should not be allowed to be funny or contradict our assumptions, including about what animals "think of us." These poems were as much about people as about dogs, & as such, were right on target. That's why they're funny. One of my favorite Billy Collins poems about a dog is called "Dharma." See The Best American Poetry 1999. I bet the negative critics won't bother, because they don't actually read or like good poetry. Well done, Mr. Collins. Thank you.

  8. "… that everyone here can read and write
    the dogs in poetry, the cats
    and all the others in prose."
    Haha, nice dig at the dominance of prose and at cats & humans, and a claim of superiority for poetry & dogs—consistent with the conceit that the poem was written by a dog. Love his poems that take you to a place by the end that is unexpected or says more than the topic originally suggested.

  9. I believe most, if not all, non-human animals have more complex cognitive abilities than those for which most of us would give them credit. That being said, this was, at best, cute; at worst, disrespectful. There should be no "probably" in the title – only "perhaps", maybe – because we cannot say for sure what they think, and this is an unjustified anthropomorphisation of a dog's potential thoughts.

    Also, not sure why it's a TED Talk…

  10. genitalmen!! not meaning to hate on this old man, but I gotta say it people, I gotta say it, TEDs standards seem to plummeting to the ground.

  11. You ban Graham Hancock ..who has YEARS of REAL RESEARCH about humanities past & future…..You put on that scumbag Bill Gates on how his vaccines are hopefully killing enough people…….Then you reduce yourself down to this guy? Just entertaining the masses? You think we are dumb? You are trucking idiots to think your followers would be interested in this garbage.

  12. Uplifting Book of Poetry Invigorates Readers; Exposing Solace & Peace of Mind!!!

    My Strength: (The book of poems to get through any day!) by Debra George

  13. Billy Collins is one of the most acclaimed poets of our time. It was nice to hear him read instead of reading his text. 😀

  14. This was horrible. I saw something in my facebook feed about 6 TED talks for dog lovers. I had to put my dog to sleep yesterday and the second one is all about how much the dog hated their human. It was awful.

  15. Lmfao explaining my thoughts on this.. I find no end… like howling at the moon when nature calls.. I do not think of what I am.. something a dawg never does is morph into a man like I do.. some say I never have.. what memories.. what dreams.. the dawg has no buisness being explained by people.. and definitely not you

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