To Flush, My Dog.

Loving friend, the gift of one
Who her own true faith has run
Through thy lower nature,*
Be my benediction said
With my hand upon thy head
,
Gentle fellow-creature!

Like a lady's ringlets brown,
Flow thy silken ears adown

Either side demurely
Of thy silver-suited breast
Shining out from all the rest
Of thy body purely.

Darkly brown thy body is,
Till the sunshine striking this

Alchemise its dullness,
When the sleek curls manifold
Flash all over into gold
With a burnished fulness.

Underneath my stroking hand,
Startled eyes of hazel bland

Kindling, growing larger,
Up thou leapest with a spring,
Full of prank and curveting,
Leaping like a charger.

Leap! thy broad tail waves a light,
Leap! thy slender feet are bright,

Canopied in fringes;
Leap! those tasselled ears of thine
Flicker strangely, fair and fine
Down their golden inches

Yet, my pretty, sportive friend,
Little is't to such an end

That I praise thy rareness;
Other dogs may be thy peers
Haply in these drooping ears
And this glossy fairness.

But of thee it shall be said,
This dog watched beside a bed

Day and night unweary,
Watched within a curtained room
Where no sunbeam brake the gloom
Round the sick and dreary.

Roses, gathered for a vase,
In that chamber died apace,

Beam and breeze resigning;
This dog only, waited on,
Knowing that when light is gone
Love remains for shining.

Other dogs in thymy dew
Tracked the hares and followed through

Sunny moor or meadow;
This dog only, crept and crept
Next a languid cheek that slept,
Sharing in the shadow.

Other dogs of loyal cheer
Bounded at the whistle clear,

Up the woodside hieing;
This dog only, watched in reach
Of a faintly uttered speech
Or a louder sighing.

And if one or two quick tears
Dropped upon his glossy ears

Or a sigh came double,
Up he sprang in eager haste,
Fawning, fondling, breathing fast,
In a tender trouble.

And this dog was satisfied
If a pale thin hand would glide

Down his dewlaps sloping, --
Which he pushed his nose within,
After, -- platforming his chin
On the palm left open.

This dog, if a friendly voice
Call him now to blither choice

Than such chamber-keeping,
"Come out!" praying from the door, --
Presseth backward as before,
Up against me leaping.

Therefore to this dog will I,
Tenderly not scornfully,

Render praise and favor:
With my hand upon his head,
Is my benediction said
Therefore and for ever.

And because he loves me so,
Better than his kind will do

Often man or woman,
Give I back more love again
Than dogs often take of men,
Leaning from my Human.

Blessings on thee, dog of mine,
Pretty collars make thee fine,

Sugared milk make fat thee!
Pleasures wag on in thy tail,
Hands of gentle motion fail
Nevermore, to pat thee

Downy pillow take thy head,
Silken coverlid bestead,

Sunshine help thy sleeping!
No fly's buzzing wake thee up,
No man break thy purple cup
Set for drinking deep in.

Whiskered cats arointed flee,
Sturdy stoppers keep from thee

Cologne distillations;
Nuts lie in thy path for stones,
And thy feast-day macaroons
Turn to daily rations!

Mock I thee, in wishing weal? --
Tears are in my eyes to feel

Thou art made so straitly,
Blessing needs must straiten too, --
Little canst thou joy or do,
Thou who lovest greatly.

Yet be blessed to the height
Of all good and all delight

Pervious to thy nature;
Only loved beyond that line,
With a love that answers thine
,
Loving fellow-creature!

Elizabeth Barrett (1806-1861)


Flush, the dog and the subject of this poem, offered companionship to Elizabeth Barrett while she was confined to her sickbed with tuberculosis in London, and was given a starring role in her correspondence with her future husband Robert Browning.

First published in 1844, Barrett, a self-confessed "philo-dogist", believed her cocker spaniel to possess a remarkable intelligence and even the capacity for literacy. Flush could recognize the letters A and B, and it was only a matter of patience according to his mistress, before he mastered the rest of the alphabet.

Robert Browning was not terribly fond of the dog because it bit him the first time he called on Elizabeth, but was wise enough to hold his tongue. Flush was a close observer of Barrett's clandestine romance with Browning and their elopement to Italy. Kidnapped three times Flush was no stranger to his own drama and a common occurrence in the 1840's of London dogs of the genteel classes, and Barrett had to pay a heavy ransom.

So interesting was little Flush's life Virginia Woolf wrote a parody called Flush: A Biography (1933). Woolf found that "the figure of their dog made me laugh so I couldn't resist making him a Life".

Barret's mystical, opium-inspired (because they used opium at the time to treat her tuberculosis) sentimental voice in this poem was the beginning of what would become a part of the body of work that established Barrett as a major Victorian poet.

*Elizabeth Barrett notes: This dog was the gift of my dear and admired friend, Miss Mitford, and belongs to the beautiful race she has rendered celebrated among English and American readers. The Flushes have their laurels as well as the C├Žsars, -- the chief difference (at least the very head and front of it) consisting, according to my perception, in the baldhead.

for Cosmo, Kiki, and Sam.

Sources:

Literary Encyclopedia:
www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=5105

Public domain text taken from
http://eir.library.utoronto.ca/rpo/display/poem245.html

CST Approved.