To Flush, My Dog by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

‘To Flush, My Dog’ is a memorable example of how writers depict love for their canine companions. The speaker in this piece, Browning, expresses her devotion, love for, and gratitude towards her cocker spaniel Flush throughout the twenty-one stanzas of the poem. The tone is reverential and loving and is, therefore, able to create a mood that inspires the same in readers. In the text of the poem, Browning explores themes of companionship, loyalty, and love. 

To Flush, My Dog by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

Summary of To Flush, My Dog

‘To Flush, My Dog’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning was written in loving devoted to the poet’s much-loved, constant companion, Flush. 

The poem begins with the speaker outlining what Flush looks like. Despite being male, she describes him with feminine imagery. His hair is luscious and wavy as a woman’s would be, and he acts as warmly and calmly as one could want. But, that doesn’t stop him from jumping, playing, and showing joy at other moments. He has a better temperament than any other dog, the speaker says, and she would change nothing about him. 

In the next sections of the poem, the speaker compares her dog to others. They are all kind, but her’s is the kindest. The same goes for loyalty, beauty, and their willingness to comfort. She leans on her dog as a true companion, someone who is never going to leave her even when she’s sorrowful. 

The poem concludes with the poet wishing her dog well throughout his life. She hopes that he never encounters anything but peace, good food, and good companionship. It is her intention that he know the same love that he has given her. 

 

Structure of To Flush, My Dog

To Flush, My Dog’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a twenty-one line poem that is separated into sets of six lines, known as sestets. These sestets follow a rhyme scheme of AABCBC, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. The lines are all similar in length, although they do not follow a specific metrical pattern. 

Browning does make use of half-rhyme throughout the poem, a technique that helps to emphasize the rhyme scheme and the rhythm that might already be present in a particular section of the poem. Also known as slant or partial rhyme, half-rhyme is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line, or multiple lines of verse. For example, “fellow” and “flow” in line six of the first stanza and line two of the second stanza or “feet” and “canopied” in stanza five, lines two and three.

 

Poetic Techniques in To Flush, My Dog

Browning makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘To Flush, My Dog’. These include, but are not limited to, imagery, enjambment, anaphora, and accumulation. The latter, accumulation, is a literary device that relates to a list of words or phrases that have similar, if not the same, meanings. 

In a poem, story, or novel, these words are grouped together or appear scattered throughout a work. They collect or pile up and a theme, image, sensation, or deeper meaning is revealed. In the case of this particular piece, the poet builds up over the first thirteen stanzas a collection of descriptions that depict her dog as warm, comforting, and kind. 

Browning also uses anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. For an example, a reader can look to stanza five with the word “Leap” at the beginning of three lines. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between lines four and five in the first stanza and lines five and six of the second stanza. 

Imagery refers to the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. Traditionally, the word “image” is related to visual sights, things that a reader can imagine seeing, but imagery is much more than that. It is something one can sense with their five senses. Some of the most impactful and memorable images are stanzas seven and eight where the poet is speaking honestly about depression and sorrow. 

 

Analysis of To Flush, My Dog 

Stanza One 

Loving friend, the gift of one, 

Who, her own true faith, hath run, 

Through thy lower nature ; 

Be my benediction said 

With my hand upon thy head, 

Gentle fellow-creature ! 

In the first stanza of ‘To Flush, My Dog,’ the speaker, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, begins by addressing the dog as her “loving friend”. She makes a reference to the person who gave her the dog, Mary Russell Mitford, a fellow author. Flush has proven to be a strong and pure companion, someone who was more than willing to spend all his days with his master. 

 

Stanza Two

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. 

The second stanza of ‘To Flush, My Dog’ is dedicated to a visual description of the dog and a metaphorical comparison between it and traditional feminine features. Browning uses words like “brown,” “silken,” and “demurely” to describe her dog. He is a beautiful dog with a beautiful personality. This is embodied through the light patch of fur on the dog’s chest. It is “silver” and shines out from his body. It is a symbol for the kindness, loyalty and generosity that’s within him.

Browning makes use of sibilance in these lines as well. It is seen through the repetition of words that begin with or include “s” sounds, usually creating a hissing or rushing noise. The technique can also be employed with the repetition “th” sounds. Browning also uses the word “pure” to describe her dog. This is an interesting choice and one that should tell the reader a great about how she sees this animal in comparison to the rest of the world.

 

Stanza Three 

Darkly brown thy body is, 

Till the sunshine, striking this, 

Alchemize its dulness, — 

When the sleek curls manifold 

Flash all over into gold, 

With a burnished fulness. 

Next, in the third stanza of ‘To Flush, My Dog,’ the speaker reuses the word “brown” as well as the imagery associate with light. This time warmth is added. She describes how usually the dog’s body is brown, but when the sun hits it just right then everything changes. The dog’s fur gives off a warmth that is undeniable, in colour and emotion. The sunshine “Alchemizes” ( a reference to alchemy, and its magical nature) or transforms the colour from dull to bright and comforting.

 

Stanza Four 

Underneath my stroking hand, 

Startled eyes of hazel bland 

Kindling, growing larger, — 

Up thou leapest with a spring, 

Full of prank and curvetting, 

Leaping like a charger. 

The browns are continued into the next stanza where Browning depicts the dog’s eyes and how she acts when Browning pets her. In these lines a reader should take note of the repetition of words ending in “ing”. These include “stroking,” “Kindling,” “growing,” and “curvetting”. The latter is used to describe an animal jumping on its hind legs.

The dog is full of energy, Browning says. She bounces and jumps every once in a while “Full of prank”. These are qualities that Browning appreciates and perhaps envies. 

 

Stanza Five 

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 

The poet makes use of a technique known as anaphora in the fifth stanza of the poem. It occurs when the same word or words are used at the beginning, or near the beginning, of multiple lines. In this case, “Leap! thy…” is used in lines one and two of the fifth stanza and then “Leap” appears at the beginning of the fourth line. There are also an example of alliteration in this stanza, with “fair and fine”. 

The stanza is similar in content to the previous three in that it adds to the description of the dog’s appearance and its personality. The dog’s tail is personified in the first line where the speaker says that is “waves a light”. This is again connected to the animal to warmth, safety, and goodness. 

 

Stanza Six 

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. 

Browning continues to address her dog, this time referring to him as “sportive friend”. She acknowledges that this dog, the one that she loves so much, is similar in certain ways to others. But, there are many differences. These are outlined in the seventh stanza.

Her dog, and other dogs, have the “drooping ears” and “glossy fairness” but her dog has qualities that set him apart. She praises, or celebrates, the rareness of Flush.

 

Stanza Seven

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. 

In the seventh stanza, the speaker says that “thee,” the dog, stands watch beside her, “unweary” throughout the day and night. He is happy to light up a room that is otherwise “sick and dreary”. The dog as a symbol for happiness and warmth is very clearly established at this point. There is another good example of alliteration in these lines with “unweary,” “Watched,” “within,” and “where”. 

 

Stanza Eight

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. 

This dog, unlike others, has the ability to make even death seem comforting. She speaks on her dog’s ability to “wait” and persevere. He does not tire, become depressed, or lose energy. Flush is Browning’s opposite in many ways and she acknowledges that. The dog has taught her that just because the “light is gone” doesn’t mean that “Love” is too. It can “remain…shining”. 

 

Stanzas Nine and Ten

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,

Once again in the ninth stanza, the speaker juxtaposes her dog against others. There are many who use their energies to hunt animals and run through the moor or meadow. But, her dog is different. He is willing to spend his days alongside his master. He shares the “shadows” of Browning’s darkest moments.

The tenth stanza also begins with the phrase “Other dogs”. There are many that are just as cheerful as her own, but there are few who are willing to hang around, helping to tend to those they love. Browning clearly respected this about her dog, and likely looked for the same quality in other companions too. Loyalty is very important in ‘To Flush, My Dog’. 

 

Stanzas Eleven and Twelve

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.

It was as though depression, sadness, and tears were the things which made Flush the most loving. He jumped up to comfort her whenever she needed to and allowed her to run her hands over his fur. He would spend his time around her, close at hand, to give comfort when it was needed. 

These stanzas all present to the reader an example of accumulation. This is a technique that applies when a poet gathers together similar words or phrases that help to paint a larger image of a subject. In this case, the dog’s personality is outlined by these sestets.

 

Stanzas Thirteen and Fourteen

This dog, if a friendly voice 

Call him now to blyther 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 favour ! 

With my hand upon his head, 

Is my benediction said 

Therefore, and for ever. 

After spending approximately thirteen stanzas praising Flush’s goodness, warmth, caring attitude, and appearance, the speaker appears to conclude her description of him. She says that he will forever be in her good graces for the happiness he’s brought her. 

There is a good example of caesura in the thirteenth stanza of ‘To Flush, My Dog’. Caesura occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text. A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might precede an important turn or transition in the text. In this case, line four of the thirteenth stanza which reads “Come out ! ‘ praying from the door,” mimicking the act of someone calling to the dog.

She will never, she declares, raise a hand against him, and if she does, it’ll be in benediction, as a priest, not with the intent of harming or scaring. This is something she’s committed to for the rest of her life. 

 

Stanza Fifteen

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. 

The speaker also commits herself in this next stanza to acting in accordance with her dog’s example. She will, as he does to her, treat him with the utmost kindness. She will learn to be as good as he is and give him all the love she can. 

 

Stanza Sixteen

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 ! 

The poet starts a series of blessings in the sixteenth stanza. These are all directed at Flush and are related to how he lives and how she hopes he will live in the future. They are straightforward and easy to understand. She wants him to have all the milk he wants, all the pats, all the pleasures that are available to a dog, and never encounter cruelty or harshness. 

 

Stanza Eighteen 

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. 

The blessings that Browning wants to fall upon her dog continue in the eighteenth stanza. They are light-hearted, heartfelt and warm. She wants nothing more than peace for her dog. For him to be able to sleep happily in the sunlight without flies waking him up or humans disturbing him. 

 

Stanza Nineteen

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 ! 

Just as the flies should leave the dog alone, the speaker says that the cats should as well. They should “flee” away from the dog so he can rest peacefully. The next few lines are humorous and light-hearted. They juxtapose nicely with the darker lines about depression and sorrow at the beginning of ‘To Flush, My Dog’. 

The speaker hopes for “Nuts” and “macaroons” and all other sweet and tasty things to appear in the dog’s path. Rather than these things appearing randomly on rare occasions, they should fall into the dog’s path every day and become “daily rations”. 

 

Stanzas Twenty and Twenty-One 

Mock I thee, in wishing weal ? — 

Tears are in my eyes to feel 

Thou art made so straightly, 

Blessing needs must straighten 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 ! 

In the final stanzas of ‘To Flush, My Dog’ the speaker concludes by wishing her dog well and hoping that for the rest of time that he only knows love— in life and after death. These stanzas show the speaker’s true reverence for her much loved dog and conclude ‘To Flush, My Dog’ by placing Flush on as high a pedestal as any pet could be. Her dog is depicted in these lines as much more than a pet though, he was a creature who was deserving o a “love that answers thine”. He is a “fellow,” equal to the speaker and therefore deserving of the same love and affection. 

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