Dogs, Fishing, and Loss

The English writer Rudyard Kipling is well-known for his poems and stories.  Less known is the fact that he was a fly fisherman.  The Nobel Prize winning author is often associated with India and British colonialism, as some of his most famous writings deal with these topics. As a fly fisherman, however, he actually spent time in the United States.  In fact, in the summer of 1889, he fished the Yellowstone area of Montana, which is (deservedly or not) so beloved by many contemporary fly fishers.[1]

I’m thinking of Kipling today because of his love for dogs.  A close friend, Stephen, is suffering the loss of his Beagle, Sparky.  Sparky was actually a close friend, in turn, with a dog of mine, who passed along several years ago.  Of course, I fished often with that dog, whose name was “Cheyenne.”  Losing her was difficult, and I feel for my friend who has now lost his little buddy too.  So, I offer below a poem by Kipling, who clearly understood such loss, and recorded it in his poem, “The Power of a Dog.”

     

The first picture, above, shows Sparky, relaxing in my friend’s office.  He sports the sweatshirt of the college where my friend teaches (and where I used to teach).  The second picture shows Sparky in my old car, with Cheyenne.

“The Power of a Dog”

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie —
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find — it’s your own affair —
But . . . you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit hat answered your every mood
Is gone — wherever it goes — for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept’em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long —
So why in — Heaven (before we are there!)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?
[2]

 

The first picture above shows Cheyenne and me at the family cabin, after snowshoeing in during the winter.  Cheyenne tore her ACL on that trip and had to be dragged part-way out on a tarp.  The second picture shows my new fishing buddy, Bear, who is trying hard to fill Cheyenne’s big paw prints.


[1] Paul Schullery, Cowboy Trout: Western Fly Fishing as if It Mattered (Helena: Montana Historical Society Press). 17-20.

[2] Rudyard Kipling, Actions and Reactions (New York: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1909), 85-86.

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