You can read this poem here.

This is one I pretty much always feature when I’m running CPD for counsellors or those who volunteer for Cruse, hospices and other places where there is daily encounter with loss and grief. As good poetry does, it says so much, so clearly: it is simple but not simplistic.

I love it that Levertov says, at the end of stanza one, that we should ‘trust’ grief. Sadness has been increasingly pathologised, seen as a problem not a process, feared as a state rather than engaged with as a valid, if challenging, part of human experience. The invitation to ‘trust’ it implies that it is trust-worthy: that it has something to offer, need not be feared. How sad that grief has become a ‘homeless dog/who comes to the back door/for a crust, for a meatless bone’. How little it has come to expect.

And how kindly she wants, now, to welcome it (though she acknowledges that it will need ‘coax[ing]’, having been treated so badly for so long. It may take a while to be present). The ‘worn mat’ isn’t grand: I imagine it as being soft and comfortable; she doesn’t want to offer it a feast, to make a great meal out of it. It’s not about “wallowing” or indulging: simply about recognising that grief has a ‘real place’. We belong to it—’me your person’—and it to us—’yourself/my own dog’.

Notice, too, that she offers grief its ‘right to warn off intruders’: we can choose who we want to let near our vulnerable bits, and when, and for how long. This feels like something particularly important to reiterate in our reality TV, social media culture.

When you need to, make grief your own dog. Neglected or stray dogs may behave in threatening ways; may gather in frightening packs. But dogs treated well are loyal friends.