The Famous Barking Dog Solo

The Famous Barking Dog Solo

I have now been writing Poet’s Day for three years—one poem a week (three initially) adds up to 261 poems, and something over 100,000 words (not including the words of the poems themselves). Perhaps I’m no better than the barking dog in Billy Collins’ poem but I occasionally get a message of encouragement which makes it worth my while. This week’s poem is “Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House” by Billy Collins.

while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,

Billy Collins (1941—)

Poem 262. Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep A Gun In The House

The neighbors’ dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.

The neighbors’ dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,

and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.

When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
entreating him with his baton

while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.

This poem has a weary, resigned feeling about it—I get the impression that Collins was subjected to this annoyance for some considerable time and the title of the poem suggests that this is just one part of a long diatribe.

The first stanza introduces the villain of the piece: the noisy dog next door. Bark and barking are used so much that it conveys the impression of ceaselessness: that the dog has been barking for a long time and will go on forever. Collins suggests that the dog, like a faulty alarm, only goes off when its owners are absent, as if they set it going before they leave the house. We can imagine that Collins isn’t close to these neighbours, since he is unable or unwilling to go round and quiet the dog himself.

In the second stanza, we see that even closing the windows and putting on classical music in an effort to drown out the incessant noise is fruitless: the dog can still be heard under the swell of music.

The third stanza takes a turn, and the barking has now become an integral part of the Beethoven piece being played, so that Collins can see the dog in his mind’s eye, sitting in the orchestra like any other musician, awaiting his cue.

By the fourth stanza the piece of music has ended but the dog still barks so that the picture Collins has painted shows the dog still performing like a musician who has not noticed the conductor trying to silence them with the baton, a thought that carries into the last stanza as we imagine the other musicians waiting in respectful silence while the dog pursues its “famous barking solo”.

I like the poem because of it’s resigned tone, and the way the dog becomes part of the orchestra, indeed, it becomes part of the musical piece being played because it cannot be suppressed.


  • Listen to Billy Collins perform the poem on YouTube.