April 12, 2016

Saturday, April 7, 2012

30 Habits of Highly Effective Poets #7: William Wordsworth on Involving Your Pets

Happy birthday (we think) to William Wordsworth. You'll find his bio at

For my National Poetry Month series on writing habits, we will spend each Saturday with a "famous" poet.

Wordsworth's poem "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," was among the first poems I ever heard spoken. It remains my mother's favorite poem, the only one she will recite from memory. Could the fields of daffodils remind her of her childhood near Sherwood Forest?

We know Wordsworth was a walker -- a great habit to clear the head for writing. But did Wordsworth test new poems out on his dog? It is possible that this is an internet myth -- too juicy not to spread. I found this "ritual" of Wordsworth's listed in several places, none offering a source.

Here is the most reliable mention, from "Great English Romantic poet William Wordsworth composed several odes to his faithful canine companion. Though anecdotal, some think the Poet Laureate would write while taking regular constitutions with the dog in tow. He would recite ideas out loud, and any met with barking or agitation was taken as a sign that revision was necessary."

In honor of Wordsworth's birthday, I'm trying out Wordsworth's purported ritual on our Schnauzer, Sam. (AKA: Samwise McBark-Bark.)

Sam is dressed for the Baltimore Book Festival.
When my children were younger, we used to sing a parody of "Funiculi Funicula" to Sam. It's silly, yes, but composing song parodies is a great way to teach young kids rhythm, rhyme and goofiness. You and Luciano Pavarotti can follow the original lyrics here:

Samwise McBark-Bark Shovan
He is a dog. Oh, what a dog!
Samwise McBark-Bark Shovan
He is a dog. Oh, what a dog!

How he loves to go on walks with Mom.
How he loves to bark at everyone.
He loves to go on walks with Mom.
He loves to bark at everyone.
Sa-amwise McBark-Bark Sho -- oh, oh -- ovan.

Despite the fact that Schnauzers are notoriously "talkative," Sam remains quiet during our song parody. He must like it.

And here is one of Wordsworth's dog poems, an elegy:

Tribute. To The Memory Of The Same Dog.

by William Wordsworth

Lie here, without a record of thy worth,
Beneath the covering of the common earth!
It is not from unwillingness to praise,
Or want of love, that here no Stone we raise;
More thou deserv'st; but this man gives to man,
Brother to brother, this is all we can.
Yet they to whom thy virtues made thee dear
Shall find thee through all changes of the year:
This Oak points out thy grave; the silent tree
Will gladly stand a monument of thee.
We grieved for thee, and wished thy end were past;
And willingly have laid thee here at last:
For thou hadst lived till every thing that cheers
In thee had yielded to the weight of years;
Extreme old age had wasted thee away,
And left thee but a glimmering of the day;
Thy ears were deaf, and feeble were thy knees, --
I saw thee stagger in the summer breeze,
Too weak to stand against its sportive breath,
And ready for the gentlest stroke of death.
It came, and we were glad; yet tears were shed;
Both man and woman wept when thou wert dead;
Not only for a thousand thoughts that were,
Old household thoughts, in which thou hadst thy share;
But for some precious boons vouchsafed to thee,
Found scarcely anywhere in like degree!
For love, that comes wherever life and holy sense
Are given by God, in thee was most intense;
A chain of heart, a feeling of the mind,
A tender sympathy, which did thee bind
Not only to us Men, but to thy Kind:
Yea, for thy fellow-brutes in thee we saw
A soul of love, love's intellectual law: --
Hence, if we wept, it was not done in shame;
Our tears from passion and from reason came,
And, therefore, shalt thou be an honored name!

Tomorrow, author and foodie Nicole Schultheis is stopping by (with her dog) to tell us about the pros and cons of noshing while you write. (Did anyone else notice that pet+o = poet?)


April Halprin Wayland said...

Laura...I think I wish I could've been in your tribe and learned the Sam McBark-Bark song!

And + o = poet? I never noticed. Wonderful!

Love the study of poets and their habits you're setting out for us. You always think outside the box!


Author Amok said...

Hi, April. It's funny you say that -- Sam has a very strong sense of "tribe." When he greets people (barks and jumps on them), I can tell by the sound he makes whether he considers the person part of his home tribe or not.

I'm so glad people are enjoying the series!

Diane Mayr said...

I was surprised to find several tributes to recently departed dogs on my Facebook feed this morning, and then I visited your blog and found Wordsworth's poem. Oh, I hope it's not something in the air...

Author Amok said...

Diane -- stop by April's blog. She has a wonderful Seder poem for her dog. Not an elegy!

Jeannine Atkins said...

Yet one more reason to like Wordsworth.

And, no, never thought of the pet-o thing!

Robyn Hood Black said...

Very late to this party after a houseful over the holiday weekend, but thanks, Laura, for this wonderful poem!
"For love, that comes wherever life and holy sense
Are given by God, in thee was most intense"
I didn't know this one, and I've always loved Wordsworth. Love Samwise McBark-Bark's name,too. Thanks for being a leader of the poetry pack!