My dog lay dead five days without a grave
In the thick of summer, hid in a clump of pine
And a jungle of grass and honeysuckle vine.
I who had loved him while he kept alive
Went only close enough to where he was
To sniff the heavy honeysuckle-smell
Twined with another odour heavier still
And hear the flies' intolerable buzz.
Well, I was ten and very much afraid.
In my kind world the dead were out of range
And I could not forget the sad or strange
In beast or man. My father took the spade
And buried him. Last night I saw the grass
Slowly devide (it was the same scene
But now it glowed a fierce and mortal green)
And saw the dog emerging. I confess
I felt afraid again, but still he came
In the carnal sun, clothed in a hymn of flies
And death was breeding in his lively eyes.
I started in to cry and call his name,
Asking forgiveness of his tongueless head.
.....I dreamt the past was never past redeeming:
But whether this was false of honest dreaming
I beg death's pardon now. And mourn the dead.
This poem, simple on the surface, is a fine example of what most poets try to achieve. There are several themes explored simultaneously within the poem and complex issues are being handled in a manner that is both simple and artful in its use of a narrative from childhood to explore adult themes.
Firstly, this poem tackles the theme of death and the poet's coming to terms with death as a reality. Secondly, it deals with the ability of the unconscious mind to influence the waking self through the medium of dreams and examines their role in ordering experience to help the conscious self come to terms with trauma. Thirdly, it examines the change from the innocence of childhood to the sophistication of adulthood through a process of growth, discovery and development and finally, the poem harks back to the poet's experience in World War II and his eventual coming to terms with his experiences there.
Wilbur has been placed within the New Formalist movement and the poem itself is written in a very formal structure: four line stanzas rhymed ABBA. Some of the rhymes are full and some are slightly off, e.g. (smell : still), (grave : alive). This has the effect of making the poem sound more natural, the rhyme unforced and surprising, which better holds the readers attention than strict rhyme. The metrics of the poem are loosely iambic pentameter but the poet does vary the iambs on occasion for the effect of mirroring the more natural intonations of human speech.
The poem's narrative is told from the point of view of a child, as remembered by an adult, although this fact is not introduced into the poem until line nine. For the first two stanzas we are left in doubt as to when the incident took place, and the poet's age at the time it happened. This stops the poem tugging at the...