A much-reproduced picture from the recent funerary ceremonies for George H.W. Bush shows the former President’s service dog, Sully, lying before his master’s casket.
It’s hard not to choke up a little seeing Sully, the very soul of to-the-last fidelity. When I first saw this image, by mind went instantly to the emblem employed in the medieval tombs of Crusaders and the opening lines from Philip Larkin’s “An Arundel Tomb” (1964):
Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd–
The little dogs under their feet.
The funerary monument Larkin is describing can be seen in Chichester Cathedral in East Sussex, its effigies depicting Richard FitzAlan, 10th Earl of Arundel (d. 1376) and his second wife, Eleanor of Lancaster (d. 1372), according to Wikipedia.
In fact, Larkin is inaccurate about the emblemata by their feet: his rest on a recumbent lion, an icon of courage, while hers rest on a dog, an icon of loyalty. No matter– Larkin is more interested of course in their hands than their feet:
Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.
“What will survive of us is love,” the poem concludes, which is more fittingly symbolized by dogs than lions perhaps. The old warrior takes his wife’s hand, as George so often took Barbara’s in his own day. Say what you will of him (and I could say a lot: Clarence Thomas, Willie Horton, his failure to act on the AIDS crisis), the elder Bush was in the end a good and faithful servant to the republic, one whose like we would can only hope to see again.