Within ‘Man and Dog’ Edward Thomas explores themes of travel, memory, and companionships. The main speaker of this text, while walking, depicts for the reader his life, memories of the jobs he’s done in the past, and his sense of the world today. Despite a few more solemn moments to speak about trenches and warfare, the tone is consistently calm and good-natured. The man appears to be in good spirits despite the long walk ahead of him.
Explore Man and Dog
Summary of Man and Dog
The poem takes the reader into an old man’s world as he walks and talks to himself and his dog. He reminisces about the past, old jobs he’s done, and places he has visited. He also looks towards the future, where he’s walking at this very moment and how he’s going to get there by “tonight”. The speaker also addresses his dog, her nature, and her inability to catch rabbits.
Structure of Man and Dog
‘Man and Dog’ by Edward Thomas is a forty-nine line poem that’s contained within one block of text. The lines follow a very simple rhyme scheme of AABBCCDD and so on, changing end sounds as the poet saw fit. In regards to meter, Thomas chose to structure this poem in iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats, known as metrical feet. The first is unstressed and the second stressed. It sounds something like da-DUM, da-DUM.
Poetic Techniques in Man and Dog
Thomas also makes use of several other poetic techniques. These include alliteration, enjambment, caesura, The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For instance, “hung” and “high” and “poplar’s” and “plunder” in line three. Other examples include “hoeing and harvesting” in line eighteen.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are numerous examples in ‘Man and Dog,’ including the transition between lines eight and nine where a reader has to go to the next line to find out what “he had not” done.
Caesura occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text. A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might proceed an important turn or transition in the text. The first line is a great example of this technique. It reads: “”Twill take some getting.’ ‘Sir, I think ’twill so.’” Or, as another example, line forty-two which reads: “But they’ll be out of that—I hope they be”.
Analysis of Man and Dog
”Twill take some getting.’ ‘Sir, I think ’twill so.’
The old man stared up at the mistletoe
That hung too high in the poplar’s crest for plunder
Of any climber, though not for kissing under:
Then he went on against the north-east wind—
Straight but lame, leaning on a staff new-skinned,
Carrying a brolly, flag-basket, and old coat,—
Towards Alto, ten miles off. And he had not
Done less from Chilgrove where he pulled up docks.
‘Twere best, if he had had ‘a money-box’,
To have waited there till the sheep cleared a field
For what a half-week’s flint-picking would yield.
In the first lines of ‘Man and Dog,’ the speaker begins with two phrases of dialogue. The first says that something, the reader is unaware of what that ‘something” is will “take some getting.” Or more clearly, take some work to get. It appears that another speaker responds, but as the poem develops it becomes clear that the man is alone. He agrees with himself, saying that it will take some effort to complete a specific task.
The second line reveals that the “something” he was looking at was mistletoe. The plant is up at the top of a poplar tree and much too high for one to climb up and reach. He turns from the plant and walks off. The man moves with a limp, perhaps painfully and leans on a “staff new-skinned”. He’s on a journey through the landscape with only the company of his dog.
The man has a “brolly” or umbrella in his possession, as well as a flag-basket and an old coat. He is headed towards “Alto” and has ten miles to go before he gets there. The man recalls running out of money and how he could’ve stayed in one place and picked flint from a field. But it appears that this isn’t what he did.
His mind was running on the work he had done
Since he left Christchurch in the New Forest, one
Spring in the ‘seventies,—navvying on dock and line
From Southampton to Newcastle-on-Tyne,—
In ‘seventy-four a year of soldiering
With the Berkshires,—hoeing and harvesting
As the man walks he becomes distracted thinking about the “work he had done”. Specifically, he concerned with that which was completed “Since he left Christchurch in the New Forest”. When he left this town, which appears to be his home, it was in the 1870s. He doesn’t seem to remember when exactly, but it was spring and he was “navvying” or working as an unskilled labourer.
He also spent time “hoeing and harvesting / in half the shires where corn and couch will grow”. The latter refers to a kind of grass that grows in gardens and lawns.
In half the shires where corn and couch will grow.
His sons, three sons, were fighting, but the hoe
And reap-hook he liked, or anything to do with trees.
He fell once from a poplar tall as these:
The Flying Man they called him in hospital.
‘If I flew now, to another world I’d fall.’
The reminiscing continues in the next lines of ‘Man and Dog’. While he was doing manual labour, he adds, his “three sons, were fighting”. He also recalls how he climbed into and fell out of a poplar tree. The accident was serious enough to where he had to go to the hospital. He speaks about the incident light-heartedly. Those in the hospital called him “The Flying Man,” alluding to the great height from which he fell.
He laughed and whistled to the small brown bitch
With spots of blue that hunted in the ditch.
Her foxy Welsh grandfather must have paired
Beneath him. He kept sheep in Wales and scared
Strangers, I will warrant, with his pearl eye
And trick of shrinking off as he were shy,
The man laughs at these images of the past and then directs his attention to the small brown female dog that “hunted in the ditch”. He goes into detail about her lineage, stating that she has “spots of blue”. Her breeding is not the best and he suggests that her grandfather must’ve “paired / Beneath him” with a female dog that was not as purebred as he. The speaker also suggests that the grandfather of his dog “kept sheep” and “scared / Strangers”.
Then following close in silence for—for what?
‘No rabbit, never fear, she ever got,
Yet always hunts. To-day she nearly had one:
She would and she wouldn’t. ‘Twas like that.
The bad one!
She’s not much use, but still she’s company,
The man is following behind his dog silently, or at least he strives to be as quiet as possible. But, as he’s doing so, he asks himself “for what?” He knows that the dog has never caught a rabbit so there’s no reason for him to be so quiet. She always hunts, but never catches anything. The use of caesura in these lines makes them feel choppy and short. There is one statement after another as the speaker describes the mannerisms, habits, and skills of his dog.
The way these lines of ‘Man and Dog’ are broken up also helps to create a distant sound to the speaker’s narration of his dog’s life. His vice and dialect come through clearly as Thomas manipulates the syntax. The speaker uses the phrase “She would and she wouldn’t” to describe how the dog tried to catch a rabbit “today”. For one moment it was as though she was going to succeed, but in the next “she wouldn’t” and it slipped away.
Despite the fact that she’s “not much use” the dog is to him “still…company”. This ties back into the good nature the man exhibited about his fall in the previous stanzas.
Though I’m not. She goes everywhere with me. So
Alton I must reach to-night somehow:
I’ll get no shakedown with that bedfellow
From farmers. Many a man sleeps worse to-night
Than I shall.’ ‘In the trenches.’ ‘Yes, that’s right.
But they’ll be out of that—I hope they be—
He juxtaposes his own sense of self against the dog. She is good company, but in the thirty-seventh line, he adds that he is not. Again, despite this, “She goes everywhere with [him]”.
Taking his mind away from the dog and back to his walk, he determines that he must reach “Alton” tonight “somehow”. IT feels like this might be a stretch, but he has to aim for it as no one along the road is going to shelter him. The framers won’t let him stay with them.
His mind flows freely, in a stream of consciousness style, into the thoughts of those who have it much worse than he does. There are those who have to sleep “‘In the trenches.’” Yes, he reminds himself, there are many less fortunate than he.
Perhaps, he thinks, the men aren’t sleeping or moving in the trenches. Maybe, because of the weather, they are up and “marching after the enemy”.
This weather, marching after the enemy.’
‘And so I hope. Good luck.’ And there I nodded
‘Good-night. You keep straight on,’ Stiffly he plodded;
And at his heels the crisp leaves scurried fast,
And the leaf-coloured robin watched. They passed,
The robin till next day, the man for good,
Together in the twilight of the wood.
If this is the case, as he hopes it is, he wishes the men “Good luck”. He “nodded” at this thought, and added, “You keep straight on”. The speaker and the soldiers fighting on the front are both headed in a direction, or so he believes. He marches to Alton and the troops head towards their enemy.
The next lines of ‘Man and Dog’. turn the poem back to the natural imagery around the speaker. The imagery is quite powerful and evocative. It’s very easy to imagine the sound of the leaves under his heels. They are personified and described as scurrying fast away from him. The wind from his steps blows them away.
The scene ends peacefully with allusions to death and new life. The man moves off “in the twilight of the wood” as does the robin, “till the next day”.