Bass explores themes of love and animal-human relationships in ‘Lost Dog’. The poem depicts, in clear language, what it’s like to lose a dog and then have that dog come back to you. Bass makes use of some figurative language to get the emotional state of her speaker across while also making it very clear how her speaker feels and what they’d like to happen next.
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Summary of Lost Dog
They took familiar actions which included calling the dog’s name and listening carefully for the sound of his “tag against collar” but there was nothing. Very suddenly it turns out that all is fine. The dog made its way home and is none of the things the speaker feared the most.
The poem concludes with a few lines describing how content the speaker feels every time she sets her eyes on her dog.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of Lost Dog
‘Lost Dog’ by Ellen Bass is a four stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. The first stanza contains eight lines, the second: four, the third: six, and the fourth: two. Bass did not choose to structure these lines with a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. They vary in length in syllable number. But, there are examples of half-rhyme in the lines.
Half-rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line, or multiple lines of verse. For instance, “in” and “mint” at the ends of lines one and two and “tag” and “tall” in lines six and seven of the first stanza.
Poetic Techniques in Lost Dog
Bass makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Lost Dog’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, caesura, and personification. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “red rug” in the third line of the second stanza and “rushing” and “radish” at the end of the first stanza.
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. There is a good example in the first line of the second stanza where it is revealed the dog is home. It reads: “As it turns out, he’s trotted home”.
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. For example, the transition between lines three and four of the first stanza.
Personification occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature, object, or force with human characteristics. There is an example at the end of the poem in the lines that read: “joy does another lap around the racetrack / of my heart”
Analysis of Lost Dog
It’s just getting dark, fog drifting in,
damp grasses fragrant with anise and mint,
black silhouette with tall ears rushing
toward me through the wild radish.
In the first lines of ‘Lost Dog,’ the speaker begins by setting the scene. She speaks about the fog that’s settling over the “damp grass” and the smells that one can sense on the breeze. This is a great example of imagery and how imagery includes more than just sights. It touches all the other senses as well.
The speaker describes how in these moments amongst the fog she was calling her dog’s name. He wouldn’t come and she couldn’t see him anywhere. This had been going on for a long time and her voice was starting to crack with the effort.
She listened carefully, trying to see if she could hear the sound of his tag against his collar. This is another great image and one that will be recognizable to anyone who has had a dog.
In the darkness of the moment, she tried to find any sign of his “silhouette”. But she could see nothing resembling his “tall ears” coming towards her “through the wild radish”.
As it turns out, he’s trotted home,
not stolen by a car on West Cliff Drive.
In the second stanza of ‘Lost Dog’ brings the drama and pain to an immediate end. While she had been out searching desperately for him he had made his way home. He had “trotted,” not realizing that his owner, the speaker, was frantically looking for him. The dog did what it does best, trace a smell along the ground. In this case, it is the slightly amusing smell of his “trusty urine”.
Very bluntly, as an expression of the relief she feels, the speaker describes how the dog is in her home where he’s supposed to be “not dead”. She makes use of internal rhyme in the third line of this stanza, emphasizing his location and his safety.
Every time I look at him, the wide head
resting on outstretched paws,
when I turn over to ease my bad hip,
I’m suffused with contentment.
Now, the speaker zooms back from the moment and considers the presence of the dog in her life. She looks at him, analyzing his features and “joy does another lap around the racetrack / of” her heart. This use of personification is a powerful one that adequately expresses her love for her dog. Contentment flows through her body all evening, outweighing all other physical pains.
If I could lose him like this every day
I’d be the happiest woman alive.
In the final couplet of ‘Lost Dog’ she knows that if she lost him and he came home every day for the rest of time she’d be “the happiest woman alive”. His presence in her life is a wonderful one, something that she never wants to end.