Consciousness. “I think that I am here, on this earth, / To present a report on it, but to whom I don’t know,” wrote the poet Czeslaw Milosz late in life. “As if I were sent so that whatever takes place / Has meaning because it changes into memory.”
Milosz’ poem came to mind recently when news broke that Lala and Tom’s beautiful ambling old bernese mountain dog, Tallulah, had died. Several evenings later, over drinks and condolences in our kitchen, LaLa asked rhetorically: Do you think we’ll go to heaven with our dogs?
Implicit in LaLa’s question is the assumption that our dogs are welcome in Paradise because of their innate capacity for kindness and unconditional love. But are we? Which leads to other reflective lines in Milosz’ 10-part poem, Consciousness. The poem is included in the 1986 book, Unattainable Earth, the Nobel Laureate’s self-described “attempt to approach the inexpressible sense of being.”
Here are those lines – offered now as a blessing for Tallulah – and for all the animals still roaming our hearts, yours and ours … Mollie, Prissy, Caitie, Bucky, Edison, Alex, Arlo, Bambie, Cisco, Ruby, Josh, et al.
The warmth of dogs and the essence, inscrutable, of doggishness.
Yet I feel it. In the lolling of the humid tongue, In the melancholy velvet of the eyes,
In the scent of fur, different from our own, yet related.
Our humanness becomes more marked then,
The common one, pulsating, slavering, hairy,
Though for the dogs it is we who are like gods
Disappearing in crystal palaces of reason,
Busy with activities beyond comprehension.
I want to believe that the forces above us,
Engaged in doings we cannot imitate,
Touch our cheeks and our hair sometimes
And feel in themselves this poor flesh and blood.
Czeslaw Milosz, 1911-2004
For more about Milosz