Dog Songs by Mary Oliver

Source: Purchased at Novel Books
Hardcover, 144 pages
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Dog Songs by Mary Oliver is a collection of poems about her dogs and her relationship with those dogs, but it also is about the human condition and what our relationships with these animals means to us and to them.  Oliver is known as a dog lover, but she’s also known as a poet that takes the most average moments and things in life and enlarges their scope and their meaning through her poems.  While in this collection that are moments of this extrapolation — such as when Percy gazes up into her face as if she were a full moon in “The Sweetness of Dogs” or when Sammy consistently breaks free of his ropes to roam through town in “Ropes” — many more of these poems are simply homages to the dogs she has known and loved.

While this collection is not as deep as some of her other collections may be, there are moments of pure joy, deep sadness at the dog’s passing, and hilarity when dogs are being just that — dogs.  People who love dogs, and even just love animals, will enjoy these poems, nodding their heads about the truthful honesty in Oliver’s lines.  We and our dogs lean on and learn from one another, and these poems clearly illustrate those moments shared with our canine friends.  Although it is not the same many readers will expect from Oliver, readers will find some of the same universality that is found in her other poems.  In many ways, these poems are even more of the heart, more about the poet and her life, opening her up to the emotions she may not express publicly as much.

Dog Songs by Mary Oliver becomes a large ode to the symbiotic relationship we have with our dogs, a relationship that tries us and rewards us based upon how willing we are to accept it for what it is.  Beyond the freedom these dogs have to be as they are and to succumb to their own wildness, there is still that deep loyalty to their person — do not dare say owner.  There’s also a little bit of Oliver’s own opinion here, in that dogs off leashes are preferable to those constrained by them because dogs loyal to their owners merely because of the leash could be considered mere property.

About the Poet:

A private person by nature, Mary Oliver has given very few interviews over the years. Instead, she prefers to let her work speak for itself. And speak it has, for the past five decades, to countless readers. The New York Times recently acknowledged Mary Oliver as “far and away, this country’s best-selling poet.” Born in a small town in Ohio, Oliver published her first book of poetry in 1963 at the age of 28; No Voyage and Other Poems, originally printed in the UK by Dent Press, was reissued in the United States in 1965 by Houghton Mifflin. Oliver has since published many works of poetry and prose.  Visit her Website.

Book 1 for the Dive Into Poetry Reading Challenge 2014.


  1. I am a great fan of Mary Oliver. I own a few of her poetry books. I love your input about the Dog Songs. I do not own a dog but I do wish to read this. Maybe after reading it, I will give it my middle brother who has a dog.

  2. My husband loves dogs and Mary Oliver but somehow I don’t think he he has this book. I’ll have to let him know he’s missed it!

  3. It does sound different for Oliver but charming, too.

  4. This book was on my wish list even before the poetry challenge. After reading about this collection of poetry, I saw what a huge amount of poetry Mary Oliver has written and I’m going to take a peek at some of her other work. Great post!

  5. Beth Hoffman says

    I can’t thank you enough for introducing me to this wonderful collection of poems!

  6. Hm, this just might be poetry I can understand.

  7. I’m not a dog person, but I like the attitude that pets are not property.

    • I really liked that too. I know from experience that Charlee loved being off the leash, but still was loyal to us and would not run too far ahead without checking that we were there. Sonia, our current dog, is a wild one…I think if I let her off the leash she would bolt. Shelter dogs are tricky

  8. I was going to review this book too, as I love dogs ! Nice choice.