The poet’s use of language throughout this poem is quite interesting. He moves from abstract images of rain and family to a very direct description of how love is love, no matter if one feels it for a pet or a family member.
Explore Oddjob, a Bull Terrier
‘Oddjob, a Bull Terrier’ by Derek Walcott is a heart-breaking poem about losing a much-loved pet.
The poem begins by talking about a loss in general. He compares and contrasts it to the weather, describing how rain can be seen in the distance while loss is often something that surprises us in horrible ways. Such is the loss of his pet, he implies. The dog mentioned in the title, along with the poet’s reaction to his loss, is the main subject of the poem. The poet concludes the text by saying that the loss of a pet, or the love for a pet, is the same as the love that one has for any human companion.
You can read the full poem here.
The main theme of this poem is loss. Specifically, the poet is interested in discussing the loss of a pet. He compares this loss to something that comes out of the blue. He wasn’t prepared for it, and he indicates that no one can really be prepared for this kind of sorrow. He expresses his belief that the love one has for an animal, like a dog, is just as real and meaningful as that one has for a friend or family member.
Structure and Form
‘Oddjob, a Bull Terrier’ by Derek Walcott is a two-stanza poem that is divided into one set of thirty-one lines and one set of twenty lines. The poem is written in free verse; this means that the poet did not make use of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. The lines are all relatively short though, making the poem flow quite quickly and in a regular pattern. Readers might notice that despite the similar-looking lines, the poet uses a variety of literary devices that set them apart.
In this poem, the poet uses a variety of literary devices. They include:
- Imagery: this can be seen throughout the poem as the poet uses notable descriptions that make the poem’s images easier to imagine. For example, “in the sea-garden, / the gold going out of the palms.”
- Metaphor: the weather is an interesting metaphor that comes to symbolize the speaker’s loss. It’s often contrasted with true sorrow in a way that helps the poem feel more emotional.
- Repetition: the poet uses a few examples of repetition in order to emphasize certain moments in the poem. For example, the final few lines.
- Anaphora: the repetition of the same word or phrase, such as is seen with the use of “we” at the beginning of lines ten and eleven of stanza one.
You prepare for one sorrow,
but another comes.
It is not like the weather,
you cannot brace yourself,
the unreadiness is all.
Your companion, the woman,
the friend next to you,
the child at your side,
and the dog,
we tremble for them,
we look seaward and muse
it will rain.
We shall get ready for rain;
In the first lines of this poem, the speaker describes preparing for one sorrow but having to deal with another. He’s suggesting that you can never be fully prepared for the difficulties that you’re going to have to deal with. There are a variety of hardships in life, and it’s not like you’re going to “brace yourself” for all of them. The speaker compares sorrows to weather, saying the two are very much not alike. Sorrow throws human beings off as it comes in so many forms.
When the weather changes, he adds, it’s possible to see it on the horizon. One can stand there and say, “it will rain” and “We shall get ready for rain,” but sorrow isn’t like that. It comes out of the blue.
The speaker imagines those he cares about around him, and they, too, experience the sorrow or weather that comes with day-to-day life. It’s normal to want to protect these people from what’s coming.
you do not connect
The speaker goes on to describe the weather building, the sky darkening, and the dog whimpering. It feels as though something is building and is being depicted through symbolic weather changes.
It’s hard to connect day-to-day life with impending sorrow (unlike it is with the weather). The thunder doesn’t predict sorrow or anything like what the speaker experiences with the loss of a pet.
There is a “silence” to this loss (that’s represented by the disappearance of the pet and the speaker’s inability to articulate his loss). The silence is all-consuming, he’s suggesting. The poet uses repetition to drive home his meaning, ensuring readers walk away feeling how “sea-deep,/ earth-deep, / love-deep” the loss is.
is stronger than thunder,
in a whimper,
The silence continues into the second stanza, with the speaker connecting it to the loss of “the animals who never utter love / as we do.” Human beings and animals may not communicate in the same way. But there is something between them that makes the loss just as unbearable as any other.
The only way the grief comes out is through “a whimper, / in tears.” The sorrow is so complete that the speaker cannot use language to describe it.
in the drizzle that comes to our eyes
not uttering the loved thing’s name,
it is blest, it is blest.
The final lines of the poem drive home what the speaker was getting at throughout the poem’s entirety. He describes crying and feeling incapable of speaking the “loved thing’s name.” This silence, in which the lost pet no longer exists, is the “Silence of the dead,” the poet writes. That silence represents the sorrow of losing someone/something that one cares deeply about.
He adds in the final lines that it doesn’t matter whether one is mourning for a family member, friend, or pet; the feelings of grief are the same. He’s putting the loss of a pet on the same level as a family member, describing for readers how incredibly effective this kind of loss can be.
With the title taken into consideration, it’s clear that Walcott is reacting to the loss of a beloved pet, a bull terrier named Oddjob.
‘Oddjob, a Bull Terrier’ is an elegy. The poet describes experiencing loss and compares it and contrasts it to weather. It’s not until the near end of the poem that it truly becomes clear what kind of loss has been suffered.
It’s very likely that Walcott wrote this poem in order to describe his very real feelings after the loss of his beloved pet. The title describes the dog as a bull terrier named Oddjob. But, by not mentioning a name in the poem, the poet opens up the text to interpretation and makes it easier for readers to relate this poem to their own loss.
Derek Walcott is known as a poet and playwright. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992 and was a prolific writer. He passed away in 2017. Much of his work is about his birthplace, Saint Lucia.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Derek Walcott poems. For example: