Billy Collins

Two poems about what dogs think (probably)

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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."




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.



What must our dogs be thinking when they look at us? Poet Billy Collins imagines the inner lives of two very different companions. It’s a charming short talk, perfect for taking a break and dreaming …

About the speaker
Billy Collins · Poet

A two-term U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins captures readers with his understated wit, profound insight — and a sense of being "hospitable."

A two-term U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins captures readers with his understated wit, profound insight — and a sense of being "hospitable."