Like Cats and Dogs

gingham-dog-calico-cat1

In 2012 – yikes, seven years ago, already? –  I wrote a blog post for the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ faculty blog, Write At Your Own Risk. I wrote that post the day after the 2012 elections, ruminating about how hopeful I was feeling, and trying to evaluate the lessons I’d learned about friends, family, community and politics. You might say the people in the country then  (and the political pundits) had been fighting like cats and dogs. In that 2012 blog, I said, “As with many lessons we learn on the path to responsible behavior as neighbors and citizens, it comes in the form of a poem for children.” The poem I had in mind was Eugene Field’s wonderful “The Duel” (commonly called “The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat.”)

cats and dogs 3

I’ll offer that poem up to you now because it’s been on my mind again lately, Maybe it’s a poem that wiggles its way into my subconscious every year there’s a national election? Maybe it’s bubbling up again because my nephew and I had a conversation about our diverging political opinions that made me lose sleep.

Maybe the poem will bubble up into your minds over the next few months, too. Similarities between ourselves and our gingham-and-calico counterparts abound.

As a writer whose audience consists of children, I’m going to reread All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.  Learning to share, learning to be generous, learning to offer a helping hand to people less fortunate than ourselves, learning to take turns, learning not to be bullies.  Lots of lessons to re-learn amidst the meows and the bow-wow-wows.

THE DUEL

The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
‘T was half-past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Nor one nor t’ other had slept a wink!
The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
Appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat.
(I wasn’t there; I simply state
What was told to me by the Chinese plate!
)

The gingham dog went “Bow-wow-wow!”
And the calico cat replied “Mee-ow!”
The air was littered, an hour or so,
With bits of gingham and calico,
While the old Dutch clock in the chimney-place
Up with its hands before its face,
For it always dreaded a family row!
(Now mind: I ‘m only telling you
What the old Dutch clock declares is true!
)

The Chinese plate looked very blue,
And wailed, “Oh, dear! what shall we do!”
But the gingham dog and the calico cat
Wallowed this way and tumbled that,
Employing every tooth and claw
In the awfullest way you ever saw—
And, oh! how the gingham and calico flew!
(Don’t fancy I exaggerate—
I got my news from the Chinese plate!
)

Next morning, where the two had sat
They found no trace of dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole that pair away!
But the truth about the cat and pup
Is this: they ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!
(The old Dutch clock it told me so,
And that is how I came to know.
)

–Eugene Field

cats and Dogs 2

It’s Poetry Friday, by the way. Click here to head over to Linda Baie’s blog, TeacherDance, to see what people are posting.

 

 

17 responses to “Like Cats and Dogs

  1. Julie, so lovely to see you today! “The Chinese plate looked very blue” might be my favorite line of this poem. 🙂 🙂 🙂 Thank you for sharing. And yes, I feel you on the how-fast-time-passes sentiment. xo

    • Yes, Irene, I love that blue Chinese plate, and I have a fragment of one (found on the beach!) on a shelf in my kitchen. Congratulations on your new book with Charles!

  2. love that last, hopeful photo.

  3. Christina Albetta

    The poem has been a part of my childhood memory since I learned and memorised it in the second grade. Interesting to think of it in the context you’ve written about. Thanks.

  4. Sometimes at the used bookstore where I volunteer, All I Really Need to Know… comes in the donations, & zips right out again. I’m glad its message is still making its way to people. I love this poem by Eugene Field, read it to my first graders long ago, talking about disagreements then, but now I had not connected it to today’s world. It fits, sadly, but I am hopeful we won’t ‘eat each other up’! Love that you connected to Poetry Friday today, Julie!

  5. I remember my father reading that poem to us when I was a kid. It’s lesson was loud and clear. How fun to see it again!

    • My mom read it to me, Bonny. It worried me then and worries me now, but, as Linda says above, we’ll keep hoping that this time around they won’ eat each other up…..

  6. This poem feels timely, yet strangely, like your photograph, not really all there is to it. I think dogs and cats actually learn to get along well. The ones we had were great pals who played hide and scare with each other all the time.

  7. I, too learned that Eugene Field poem in third grade. I had a small bath towel imprinted with the pink gingham cat and the blue calico dog which was my favorite, until it became an actual thin rag. Maybe there are too many cats and dogs taking over in our world while the birds and insects and large plant-eating mammals are going extinct? Maybe it really is raining cats and dogs?

  8. I’m experiencing towel-envy, Gretchen – how cute!

  9. What a marvelous poem Julie–I haven’t read it for a long time and love it, thanks for sharing it, and that pair at the end are adorable. Bullies, what a sad waste of time and energy, there’re too many other important things to do in life.

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