One More Brevity (1962)
I opened the door so my last look
Should be taken outside a house and book.
Before I gave up seeing and slept,
I said I would see how Sirius kept
His watchdog eye on what remained
To be gone into, if not explained.
But scarcely was my door ajar,
When, past the leg I thrust for bar,
Slipped in to be my problem guest,
Not a heavenly dog made manifest,
But an earthly dog of the carriage breed,
Who, having failed of the modern speed,
Now asked asylum, and I was stirred
To be the one so dog-preferred.
He dumped himself like a bag of bones.
He sighed himself a couple of groans,
And, head to tail, then firmly curled,
Like swearing off on the traffic world.
I set him water. I set him food.
He rolled an eye with gratitude,
Or merely manners, it may have been,
But never so much as lifted chin.
His hard tail loudly smacked the floor,
As if beseeching me, “Please, no more;
I can’t explain, tonight at least.”
His brow was perceptibly trouble-creased.
So I spoke in terms of adoption, thus:
“Gusty, old boy, Dalmatian Gus,
You’re right, there’s nothing to discuss.
Don’t try to tell me what’s on your mind,
The sorrow of having been left behind
Or the sorrow of having run away.
All that can wait for the light of day.
Meanwhile feel obligation-free;
Nobody has to confide in me.”
‘Twas too one-sided a dialogue,
And I wasn’t sure I was talking Dog.
I broke off, baffled, but all the same,
In fancy, I ratified his name;
Gusty, Dalmatian Gus, that is,
And started shaping my life to his,
Finding him in his right supplies
And sharing his miles of exercise.
Next morning the minute I was about,
He was at the door to be let out.
As much as to say, “I have paid my call.
You mustn’t feel hurt if now I’m all
For getting back somewhere, or further on.”
I opened the door, and he was gone.
I was to taste in little the grief
That comes of dogs’ lives being so brief.
Only fraction of ours, at most,
He might have been the dream of a ghost,
In spite of the way his tail had smacked
My floor, so hard and matter-of-fact.
And things have been going so strangely since,
I wouldn’t be too hard to convince,
I might even claim he was Sirius.
Think of presuming to call him Gus!
The star itself, heaven’s greatest star,
Not a meteorite but an avatar,
Who had made this overnight descent
To show by deeds he didn’t resent
My having depended on him so long,
And yet done nothing about it in song.
A symbol was all he could hope to convey,
An intimation, a shot of ray,
A meaning I was supposed to seek,
And finding, not necessary speak.
“One more brevity” is not at all brief, though Frost once called it a “little lyric . . . about a dog” (“On Taking Poetry”). The speaker, before retiring for the night, opens the door to be sure his “last look” of the day is “outside a house and book” and into nature instead. He hopes to take a quick look up at Sirius, otherwise known as the dog star, the one that keeps a “watch-dog eye.” But when he has scarcely opened his door, a Dalmatian unexpectedly enters, slipping past his leg and settling himself on the floor. The poem plays on earthly versus heavenly dogs.
The dog seeks asylum in the speaker’s home, and the speaker offers the dog food and water, without gaining much of a response from the animal. Soon the speaker begins to adapt his life and his mind to this unexpected pet. He imagines that the dog “failed of the modern speed” and that he may have some sorrow either from being left behind or having run away. This dog has seen his day. The speaker projects onto the dog his full imagination, giving him his own name and imagining this night’s situation, the dog’s situation, and the way their lives might be from this night on, together. He is ready to adopt the pet, ready to welcome him for always.
The next morning brings disappointment. The dog was merely passing through. The minute the speaker awakes the dog asks to be let out, and as soon as the speaker opens the door, the dog is gone and off to other things. The speaker allows that this is because the dog’s life is so brief—“a fraction of ours at most.” He thinks he might even have dreamt the encounter. He says things have been going strangely since the dog’s departure and moves from earthly dogs back to heavenly ones.
The speaker would not be “too hard to convince” that the dog was in fact Sirius, the “star itself, Heaven’s greatest star.” Perhaps the star had dropped in to assure him that it did not resent the poet’s not having written in “song” about him before.
It is significant that Dalmatian Gus, the Sirius of the imagination, is the mirror, or reverse image, of the constellation. If Sirius chose to come to Earth, he would likely present himself as one of the “carriage breed.” As a star Sirius is a white spot on a black sky; the Dalmatian is the reverse: black spots on a white coat.
The poem ends somewhat cryptically. The dog that slipped indoors the previous night might have simply been an “intimation, a shot of ray.” And perhaps its presence was to provide, the speaker speculates, “A meaning I was supposed to seek, / And finding, wasn’t disposed to speak.” He does not specify what the meaning was that he found but cannot say.
The “brevity” of the title refers to the brief life span of and visit from the dog, but it may also refer to the brief experiences we have relative to heavenly things. Our lifespans are extremely short compared with the lives of stars or planets, and our experiences with others can be just as fleeting. Lives intermingle for a moment, and we may never see one another again. Though we often have some friends for the long-run, so many more of our everyday experiences involve anonymous people we do not even fully notice or acknowledge. If the dog was the embodiment of the dog-star Sirius, then perhaps this cosmic messenger brought the following message. Always be aware of how fleeting your existence is and savor your relationships, for you never know how long they may last. In this sense, the switch between an earthly and a heavenly dog is telling: People might comment on how brief an ordinary dog’s life is, but if the dog is Sirius, then the tables are turned and people are the ones with the brief lifespan.
The poem was first published in booklet form as Frost’s 1953 Christmas poem with the original manuscript title “Down to Earth.” The occasion of the poem might signal that Frost intended to share, however cryptically, something of his experience with heavenly and earthly things in an effort to bring the transcendent down to earth.
“One More Brevity” was later collected in In the Clearing.