Elegy for a Fifteen Year Old Sleddog

(A Work in Progress)

A Note to the Reader: This is, of course, a far cry from the authentic Whitmanian voice! The man was inimitable. Moreover, between Walt and ourselves now lie not only all the immense literary progressions of the Modern era, but also the formidable slag-heap of deconstructionism and postmodern poetics. Words and meanings are so different now; tropes no longer operate in quite the same way — even though Walt was rather far ahead of his time. So although this piece is deeply influenced by Whitman, even to the extreme of quoting two of his lines verbatim, it could hardly be called a true emulation. That cannot be helped. I have done my poor best to honour the Master!


Coda: Out of the Romantic Heart (Homage to Walt Whitman)

(Five years and five months after the death of Tonya of Seppala)


Ditko of Seppala in 1969

Out of the romantic heart of a naive twenty-four-year-old stripling
Pitched from the burning nest of a dying society steeped in its own hopeless past ,
Self-ejected from the hot humid South to frigid exile in Canada, where I met a
      ten-year-old Seppala sleddog, Ditko, who changed the course of my life!
Already then had I abandoned all thought of a career at some university
(Fearing too much the death-in-life I saw in professors and graduate students
      around me,)
Already, too, had I failed at an ambitious entrepreneurial business
      in photography.
Soon then the strange fascination of Ditko and his kind, his historic near-
      extinct race
Helped put an end to a faltering seven-year marriage.
Ambitiously I laboured and bred to preserve the Seppala lineage
But in my youthful improvident foolishness I could not sustain the
      rescue effort for long,
It was all over in scarcely five years and Ditko had died early on.
Forth then I fled from the battering of fourfold failure in each significant
      thing I attempted,
      so green and unready for life I was,
Through fifteen years of denial, I lurked and hid on another continent,
Finally to succumb again to the lure and go back to the frozen North to take up again
      the Seppala torch,
Only to confront at length and learn at long last the inalterable nature of loss.


Now an old man of seventy-two years, both feet planted at the last on the heavy lake-bottom soil of Manitoba,
Whose failing hearing can no longer hope to catch the faint barking of Tonya on the horizon,
Whose failing sight can no longer track the raven's flight to its home in the West,
I here proclaim the hopelessness of elegiac consolation,
Here I deny for myself the presumptive miracle of transcendance.


Walt Whitman 1819 — 1892

O Tonya! O Tonya! O Tonya!
Your fur and your bones lie here beneath pasture stones nearby,
Each day I visit your graveside and try to converse with you,
But where have you gone, dear companion?
Where do you roam? What grouse do you flush? What squirrels do you tree?
Do you run all alone, or with past companions in harness?
Are you here, or in Yukon, or the ashen shores of Hades?
Such a short time ago we were accustomed to rove,
Tonya and I, together.
Tonya and I, together.
Tonya and I, together.


Now we are parted. Tonya is gone these five years.
I have sought her everywhere, searching each woodland and thicket,
Overlooking every pasture and hilltop.
Is that Tonya I see, that black speck on the horizon?
That quick flash of movement caught from the corner of my eye?
Did I just hear her, a faint distant yap that might have been Tonya's?
"So faint I must be still, be still to listen
But not altogether still, for then she might not come immediately to me."†

"Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" ll. 109-110


O restless and incessant prairie wind that stirs the vast fields of barley, wheat and canola
Over the rolling hills of Assessippi and Waywayseecappo,
All across the Province of Manitoba and into the forests of northern Ontario eastward
And the ever continuing grain fields of Saskatchewan and Alberta westward!
O you northern Sun, lying always so yellow and low, that cannot forget the horizon!
O you black Raven the relentless rhythm of whose wingbeats carries you evermore westward,
O Raven whose deep croaking voice speaks now to me in the accents of old age!
Whose rhythmic wingbeats whisper softly to me one word:
Death, death, death, death, death, death, death!
Death conquers and rules over all, loss is irremediable!
Death took from me Ditko now near half a century gone
And Death has now hidden Tonya away in the ground,
Her soul flown away I know not where with the Raven,
Towards the gloomy, guttering, low gold-vermilion Sun.
And along with those two a two-hundredfold honour guard of their kind
All falling downward to darkness. None shall escape.
Greedy insatiable Death will have all,
And Death in his own great good time shall come also for me
Who have without much success endeavoured to be their shepherd and steward.


Lizaveta and Tonya with Jeffrey summer 2006

O presumptuous vain man!
O fool who stuck his thumb in the flood-dyke of oblivion!
O steam-punk idiot who tried to hold onto the dogs of the Gold Rush!
The judgment of time and death is fallen upon you, your doom is sealed:
You, too, shall follow your dogs, foredoomed to make your way westward
But not in flight with the raven, that joy is denied you.
For overweening pride, for your hubris and reckless disregard
You shall make that journey afoot, your thick leather boots
Stumbling over the clods of dark earth and the glacier-borne stones
And tripping clumsily through these endless expanses of stubble.


Henceforward think not to deny to Death all that which is His!
Presume no longer to undertake projects of breed preservation.
As the dogs that you sheltered have died, so too shall you die.
So shall their race die, and yours as well!
So too shall Manitoba and the Yukon die, and this very nation of Canada.
So shall the North American continent die and in its own turn the very
      Earth that supports it.
So in the end shall the Universe falter and fail, to die at last the feeble
      heat-death of entropy. Where then is your preservation?


At the age of threescore and ten at least I have come to accept the inevitable
      certainty of loss.
I have come to see that so much of all that we do as men upon this earth
      is rooted in stubborn denial of that stark simple certainty,
That we pretend to a permanence and importance of all our doings to which all
      the world of nature surrounding us refuses to be party,
That we speak, write, build, sculpt, paint, create and express ourselves as though
      all our works were adamantine and eternal.
The truth is that we and our works are as fleeting and impermanent
      as a rising dawn mist or the noonday path of a dust-devil.
Out of the romantic heart we build great visionary architectures, worlds of illusion,
      deceiving ourselves and dishonouring nature.
We do not really know what this world is; how can we afford to insult it?
Nor should we choose to diminish our own dearly-purchased integrity, such as
      it is, by denying our own proper place in a complex creation.
A hard bitter lesson in loss was all I had made for myself when I came at length
      to the end of my trail.
Looking back, I see behind me no trail but only my own fading footprints
      and beside them the vanishing pattering paw-prints of Tonya.


—J. Jeffrey Bragg 11 January 2017


Please continue to read "Afterword" that resolves
all the grief and pain in this Elegy

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