1741 Susan/Elizabeth: a love poem

Susan/Elizabeth — a love poem
by Kitty Blandy


I smell you before you arrive
Leather and grass and skin
Where have you been today?

Friend, companion, confidante.
I’m following.

We joined at the beginning
Before the beginning –
Or maybe it was just at the end.
You took me from singular to plural.[1]

From the start we rescued each other
My kind had become vulnerable
We were not so popular until we joined,
Shielding to the creep of extinction.

You helped save us
Gave us presence, recognition.
Your kind helped my kind,
We made you cool, you made us warm.[2]

Once it was said,
Do they feel — do they have a heart?[3]
Old world sentiments.
We do. We have.

Through you I am released
Into the world unbound
By convention – stepping out
Unconstrained into the light.

I can tell by your breath
By the hair on your neck
If you are scared
Or threatened.

An exercise in waiting,
Hurry up! – and wait.
Hours in stillness.

A study of self control
Duty, expectation and desire,
Anticipation and let down of possibilities.

I hear you –
Before you arrive
Footsteps on gravel
Shaking off the wet of a morning walk
As you enter.

It is in our best interest to keep silent. You are not so good at that,
You don’t get into trouble
Your voice — a liberty that I am denied.

Our silent conversations –
Conferences of solitude.
Confirm our Umwelt.[4]

Soundless transmission
Of empathic supply
Exchange between us

Do words say everything? 
Can words say anything? 
Do not words destroy the symbol that ties beyond the reach of words?[5]

I see you —
We see each other,
Our very souls,
Our very selves.

What is our self,
Where is our self?
Do you have a self –
A realization through my gaze.[6]

Who are we to each other do you suppose?
Who are we to ourselves?
You are my reflection,
My best self.

Do I wish I were you?
Do I wish I were you?

I recognize you
The fractional eye movement that signals
Time to stay or leave
We are symbiotic.

I will follow,
You will lead,
You are the only one who can.[7]

I will take your wishes
And perform what you cannot —
Running ahead to greet
With enthusiasm,
You — following with restraint.

You never had to make promises
You acted them,
To me.

The sacred promises of our kind
Are lifelong.
As are you.

I love you like no other.
You allow me to remain,
Your mute companion.

What have I given you?
Joy, levity, commitment.

What have I given you?
Undivided attention, affection –

Do you feel boredom?
Diurnal patterns of expectation,
Passages of rehearsal and reification.

Am I a symbol for you?
Am I not capable of suffering?
Can people reach you through me?

Inside we remain
Equal in our comforts of isolation,
In reciprocal co-existence.

Presenting our selves in the roles we play,
In mutual exclusion.

My body responds when you enter the room
in somatic welcome
An electric vibration
Through to the tip of my spine.

Acting and reacting
Energetic displays
Aggression and delight —
I bare my teeth to these instincts
(You conceal and control).

I feel you —
Gentle touches of assurance,
We come close and sense each other’s breath
Sighs of recognition — full with meaning.
Soothing gestures at the close of day.

You ease my discomforts,
Calm and reassure me —
My anchor, my distraction, my protection.

Let’s go back to before us.

We are alike you and I —
Born into ancient pedigrees
Yours over one thousand years
Mine a few hundred less —
We come from fearless stock.[8]

Diminutive of stature
We hold our heads with dignity
Asserting ourselves solely through our presence.

Nature’s prime directive.
We gave you a dynasty,
Cherished for generations.

I will protect yours,
Will you protect mine?

Your legacy by my side,
I won’t leave them behind.
They will not perform,
For profit or gain.[9]
That, I cannot promise my own.

Offspring can be impulsive,
Compulsions driving over propriety
A fortuitous union perhaps,
Adding diversity to this planet.[10]

Later progeny
Will act
Heedless of the implications for their kin
Hurting those who care for them.

There will be years
With more of us
Complications and shared agendas
Uniforms and livery, corralling.

How many futures until,
One of mine
Will sit with you
As your countenance is recorded.[11]

Your legacy by my side.

Horrible times ahead,
Our utility questioned
Our lives at stake.
The foundation is firm —
We will survive
In our solipsism.

I smell you —
Powder and chamois
The soles of your feet
Cathedrals of the earth.[12]

Always there
By my side.

I didn’t know it was the end
A day like any other.

You are placed
With others gone before,[13]
Loved and bereft.
My terminal endearments
Inscribed for eternity.[14]


Endnote. This poem is a fictional conversation between two individuals; reflecting each other, united by their situation. They first meet in 1944 before the end of the Second World War, their lives entrenched in 19th century traditions. They become life long companions. In this context their conversation wanders through shared observations and recollections. Each reflects on their lived experiences. They touch on the subjects of duty, loyalty, captivity, silence, matriarchy and servitude; they discuss their legacies and the notions of public and private. They compare temperament and how the bounds of expectation affects that. They also refer to their offspring, and the results, hopes and disappointments thereof. It is unclear whether the utterances are audible, or from whom they originate. The poem can be read as a dialogue or just as equally as an internal monologue; the tandem thoughts held between these two females of different species, Homo sapiens and Canis familiaris.

Noting the shift in 19th century ideas about the animal (e.g. Charles Darwin’s notes) towards the modern (e.g. D.H. Lawrence), our conversationalists consider the very existence of the self (Pierre Bourdieu), and possibly rest on the consensus that it is enough to be.[15]

Writers’ use of the canine and other nonhuman animals in pre 20th century literature often serves an anthropocentric mission, “viewing the nonhuman animal as purely symbolic.”15 With the shift in accepting animals as conscious beings capable of suffering, writers “thinking of animals involves imagining narratives” (Jamie Johnson quoting Jacques Derrida). Marian Scholtmeijer notes that in “modern literature, but more crucially in modern fiction, animals contend with the conceptual devices that seek to subsume them.”[16] It may be just as simple as what playwright A.R. Gurney said: “There is a need to connect, not only to a dog, but to other people through the dog.”[17]


Kitty Blandy Davies

Kitty Blandy is a Vancouver-based visual artist who works predominantly with drawing and sculpture. Visit her website here. Born and raised in the UK, she has worked between both countries for the past 35 years. The subject of her work centres on the body, and has as much to do with being in a body, as looking at a body. Her study is driven principally by ontological curiosity — an enquiry of what it is to be. The focus of her practice is situated within current discourses including: the body as site of sensation and consciousness; how being in a body feels physically and metaphysically; environmental and humanist theology; human/animal empathy, and extinction. Her work has been represented in the UK and Canada and is included in a number of collections, notably the Primary Collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London. She holds a BFA from Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and is currently a Master of Liberal Arts post-graduate candidate at Simon Fraser University.


The British Columbia Review

Editor and Publisher: Richard Mackie

Princess Elizabeth with Susan, her first pet corgi, 1944. Photo by Lisa Sheridan. Courtesy Hulton Archive; Getty Images

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster



[1] This implies both the change to using the majestic plural (pluralis majestatis) and the idea of becoming co-joined in a relationship.

[2] “She had made corgis cool, while they made her look warm.” Rebecca Seales, “Corgis: How the Queen fell in love and started a phenomenon

[3] See Charles Darwin, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872).

Gravestone of Susan in the pet cemetery on the royal estate of Sandringham. Courtesy Getty Images

[4] According to Jakob von Uexküll and Thomas A. Sebeok in Wikipedia, Umwelt (the German word Umwelt means “environment” or “surrounding world”) is the “biological foundations that lie at the very epicentre of the study of both communication and signification in the human [and non-human] animal.” The term is usually translated as “subjective universe.”

[5] Virginia Woolf, Flush: A Biography (1933), p. 27.

[6] Jacques Derrida’s idea of the animal looking back, from The Animal That Therefore I Am (2006).

[7] Non-human animals do not follow human hierarchical etiquette.

[8] The Pembroke Welsh Corgi lineage has been traced back as far as 1107 AD; Queen Elizabeth II was descended from the first effective King of England, Alfred, roughly 1,150 years ago.

[9] Elizabeth never sold or exhibited any of her dogs or their offspring.

[10] The mixed breed of Pembroke corgi and Dachshund known as “Dorgi.”

[11] Painting by Michael Leonard, Queen Elizabeth II, in the primary collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London, UK.

[12] From a description by Michael Ondaatje from The English Patient (1992)

[13] Royal dog cemetery started by Queen Victoria in the grounds of Sandringham, Norfolk.

[14] From a description of the care ER took in the wording for Susan’s headstone.

[15] Jamie Johnson, The Philosophy of the Animal in 20th Century Literature (2009)

[16] Marian Scholtmeijer, Animal Victims in Modern Fiction (1993)

[17] https://playbill.com/article/on-the-road-with-ar-gurneys-sylvia-com-100893

Michael Leonard, Queen Elizabeth II, National Portrait Gallery, London

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