Rover [poem by Henry Kendall]

[Editor: This poem by Henry Kendall was published in Songs from the Mountains (1880).]


No classic warrior tempts my pen
To fill with verse these pages —
No lordly-hearted man of men
My Muse’s thought engages.

Let others choose the mighty dead,
And sing their battles over!
My champion too has fought and bled —
My theme is one-eyed Rover.

A grave old dog with tattered ears
Too sore to cock up, reader.
A four-legged hero full of years,
But sturdy as a cedar.

Still, age is age; and, if my rhyme
Is dashed with words pathetic,
Don’t wonder, friend. I’ve seen the time
When Rove was more athletic.

He lies coiled up before me now
A comfortable crescent:
His night-black nose and grizzled brow
Fixed in a fashion pleasant.

But ever and anon he lifts
The one good eye, I mention,
And tries a thousand doggish shifts
To rivet my attention.

Just let me name his name, and up
You’ll see him start and patter
Towards me, like a six months’ pup
In point of speed, but fatter.

He pokes his head upon my lap,
Nor heeds the whip above him;
Because he knows, the dear old chap,
His human friends all love him.

Our younger dogs cut off from hence
At sight of lash uplifted;
But Rove, with grand indifference,
Remains, and can’t be shifted.

And ah! the set upon his phiz
At meals defies expression;
For I confess that Rover is
A cadger by profession.

The lesser favourites of the place
At dinner keep their distance;
But by my chair one grizzled face
Begs on with brave persistence.

His jaws present a toothless sight;
But still my hearty hero
Can satisfy an appetite
Which brings a bone to zero.

And, while Spot barks and Pussy mews
To move the cook’s compassion,
He takes his after-dinner snooze
In genuine biped fashion.

In fact, in this, our ancient pet
So hits off human nature,
That I at times almost forget
He’s but a dog in feature.

Between his tail and bright old eye,
The swift communications
Outstrip the messages which fly
From telegraphic stations.

And, ah! that tail’s rich eloquence
Conveys too clear a moral
For men who have a grain of sense
About its drift to quarrel.

At night, his voice is only heard
When it is wanted badly;
For Rover is too cute a bird
To follow shadows madly.

The pup and Carlo in the dark
Will start at crickets chirring;
But when we hear the old dog bark
We know there’s something stirring.

He knows a gun, does Rover here;
And if I cock a trigger,
He makes himself from tail to ear
An admirable figure.

For, once the fowling piece is out,
And game is on the tapis,
The set upon my hero’s snout
Would make a cockle happy.

And, as for horses, why, betwixt
Our chestnut mare and Rover
The mutual friendship is as fixed
As any love of lover.

And, when his master’s hand resigns
The bridle for the paddle,
His dogship on the grass reclines,
And stays and minds the saddle.

Of other friends he has no lack,
Grey Pussy is his crony;
And kittens mount upon his back,
As youngsters mount a pony.

They talk of man’s superior sense,
And charge the few with treason
Who think a dog’s intelligence
Is very like our reason;

But though Philosophy has tried
A score of definitions,
’Twixt man and dog it can’t decide
The relative positions.

And I believe upon the whole
(Though you my creed, deny, sir),
That Rove’s entitled to a soul
As much as you or I, sir.

Indeed, I fail to see the force
Of your derisive laughter,
Because I will not say my horse
Has not some horse-hereafter.

A fig for dogmas — let them pass!
There’s much in life to grieve us;
And what most grieves is this, alas,
That all our best friends leave us.

And when I sip my nightly grog,
And watch old Rover blinking,
This royal ruin of a dog
Calls forth some serious thinking.

For, though he’s lightly touched by fate,
I cannot help remarking
The step of age is in his gait —
Its hoarseness in his barking.

He still goes on his rounds at night
To keep off forest prowlers;
But, ah! he has no teeth to bite
The cunning-hearted howlers.

Not like the Rover that, erewhile,
Gave droves of dingoes battle,
And dashed through flood and fierce defile —
The friend, but dread, of cattle!

Not like to him that, in past years,
Won fight by fight, and scattered
Whole tribes of dogs with rags of ears
And tail-ends torn and tattered!

But while Time tells upon our pet,
And makes him grayer daily,
He is a noble fellow yet,
And wears his old age gaily.

Still, dogs must die; and, in the end
When he is past caressing,
We’ll mourn him like some human friend
Whose presence was a blessing.

Till then, be bread and peace his lot —
A life of calm and clover!
The pup may sleep outside with “Spot.” —
We’ll keep the nook for Rover.

Henry Kendall, Songs from the Mountains, Sydney: William Maddock, 1880, pages 173-182

Editor’s notes:
anon = at another time, later

betwixt = between (“betwixt” can be abbreviated as “’twixt”)

cadger = someone who seeks to obtain something without paying for it; someone who seeks to “cadge” something, i.e. beg, sponge, or borrow (especially with no intent to repay); may also refer to an itinerant dealer, a pedlar (someone who peddles products), someone with no fixed place of business who hawks or peddles products

crony = a close friend, particularly a friend of long standing, especially used regarding older people (in modern times, it often refers to the friends of people in politics or business who have received favours)

fig = something of little account or little worth, such as used in the phrase “I don’t give a fig” (derived from the small value of a single fig)

Muse = a source of artistic inspiration; a person, especially a woman, or a force personified as a woman, who is the source of inspiration for an artist (derived from the Muses of Greek and Roman mythology, who were said to provide inspiration for artists and writers)

phiz = face (derived from the word “physiognomy”, regarding one’s countenance or face)

tapis = a tapestry, heavily decorated textile, or tablecloth, used as a furniture covering (such as a covering for a meeting table or council table), or put on a wall for display, hung as a curtain, or used as a carpet; the phrase “on the tapis” means “on the table”, i.e. something under consideration, something which has been put forth (“tabled”) for a decision or discussion

’twixt = betwixt, between (can be given either with or without an apostrophe)

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