‘Bonedog‘ is a thoughtful and complex description of what living day to day can be like. The poet uses second-person pronouns, like “you” and “your,” to define the reader’s life for them in ‘Bonedog.’ They’re caught up in a pattern of living they can’t get out of. Coming home becomes a terrible pain.
‘Bonedog’ by Eva H.D. considers the process of coming home every day and how terribly lonely it is.
In the first lines of ‘Bonedog,’ the speaker begins by stating that arriving home from anywhere can be painful, even if home was where “you” wanted to be all day. It’s the same thing every day. “You” get up and do the same things, see the same people, and think about the future. The poem ends when the poet considers what it would be like to see through everything to the “bone.”
You can read the full poem here.
Throughout this poem, the poet engages with themes of the every day/mundane and the future. She suggests that the future is going to be the same as the present. You’ll finally die after coming up and down, like the sun or a “tired whore,” over and over. This isn’t a hopeful future, but it’s one that seems most likely considering what life has been like up until this point.
Structure and Form
‘Bonedog’ by Eva H.D. is an eight-stanza poem that is divided into uneven sets of lines. The first stanza contains eleven lines, the second: nine, the third: sixteen, the fourth: eleven, the fifth: one, the sixth: two, the seventh: three, the eighth: eleven, and the final stanza has seven lines. These stanzas are written in free verse. This means that the lines do not conform to a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. But, despite this, the poem does contain examples of a wide variety of literary devices that help give it a feeling of unity.
Eva H.D. makes use of several literary devices in ‘Bonedog.’ These include, but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: This can be seen when the writer cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza.
- Repetition: occurs when the poet uses the same words, ideas, phrases, or other literary elements. In this case, the poet repeats phrases like “terrible” and “lonely.”
- Imagery: seen through the use of particularly interesting imagery. For example, in the second stanza when the poet writes: “vermin / clinging to the grass stalks, / long hours on the road, / roadside assistance and ice creams.”
Coming home is terrible
whether the dogs lick your face or not;
whether you have a wife
because everything’s worse
once you’re home.
In the first stanza of “Bonedog,’ the speaker begins by stating, quite clearly and directly, that coming home is terrible. No matter how one is, there is always an amount of loneliness to confront. A dog, wife, or “wife-shaped loneliness” doesn’t make things better. Anything, at this point, is better than being at home, even if at the time it didn’t seem that way. The speaker is quite determined about this point of view and doesn’t leave any room for discussion or alternative points of view.
You think of the vermin
clinging to the grass stalks,
with longing because you did not want to return.
Coming home is
In the second stanza, the speaker looks back through the various things “you” might’ve seen throughout the day and that you could, in theory, return to rather than going on. These things seem dull and uninteresting, but since coming home is “just awful,” they’ve cast in a better light. The speaker is determined that you will find yourself “longing” for anything else “because you did not want to return” home.
And the home-style silences and clouds
contribute to nothing
but the general malaise.
Clouds, such as they are,
slack in all the wrong spots,
seamy suit of clothes
The following stanza digs deeper into the problem. Now, it seems more like there’s something wrong with “you” rather than something wrong with home. The speaker says that you are “cut / from a different cloudy cloth,” one that contrasts the “home-style silences and clouds.” These, which contribute to nothing, don’t suit “you.”
The final lines of this stanza seem to be alluding to the mundanity of home and the unhappy reality it brings to mind. This is what “you” have at the end of the day— “seamy suit of clothes / dishrag-ratty, worn.”
You return home
the Earth’s gravitational pull
a parched well linked to tomorrow
by a frail strand of…
The fourth stanza compares returning home to returning from the moon. Gravity is heavier, and all the interest leaving Earth held is over. Untied shoes and dragging shoulders make everything seem worse. The worry lines dig deeper, and sorrow seems like the only feeling one can depend on.
Stanzas Five, Six, and Seven
Anyway . . .
Anyway . . .
The following stanzas break up the tone of the previous. Here, the speaker seems to be coming to terms with the fact that one day is like the next. It’s an ongoing pattern that isn’t broken by anything so interesting as going to the moon. “You sigh,” the speaker says, “into the onslaught of identical days.”
The use of ellipses in these lines allude to the fact that there’s nothing to be done about this situation. “You’re back,” the speaker adds. The pattern continues on and on.
The sun goes up and down
like a tired whore,
the weather immobile
the big blue whale,
a skeletal darkness.
The eighth stanza brings in the image of the sun coming up and going down and reminds “you” that you’re also going to age until your “vision blears.” The tones at its darkest in these lines as the speaker brings in “your” mortality. One can’t help but despair over this predicted fate.
The poet ends the stanza by speaking about “the big blue whale” you carry with you. It is the darkness within one’s heart and the fear for the future (not to mention the disappointment in the present) that weighs one down.
You come back
with X-ray vision.
all of it: bone.
In the final stanza, the poet uses some surprising images that contrast with those in previous stanzas. Now, “you” have “X-ray vision,” and you can see through the exterior of everything, right down to the bone. It’s likely the poet was considering a new perspective and what it would be like to shake off the pattern of day-to-day life and see through all of it to the “bone.”
The tone is descriptive and distressed. The speaker is well aware of the state of “your” life and is willing to define it in the clearest and most interesting detail. They know “you” aren’t satisfied with the life you’re living.
The poet likely wrote this piece in order to emphasize how despair-filled day-to-day life can be. This is especially true, she emphasizes, when one looks into the future and sees endless days leading up to one’s death.
The speaker is unnamed. It could be a woman or a man. They have some insight into “your” life and are able to speak for your emotions—this person likely experienced day-to-day life in the same way that the intended listener did.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Bonedog’ should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’ by Sylvia Plath – uses a black rook as a metaphor. It elevates the simple things in life to a higher, more important level.
- ‘Dreamers’ by Siegfried Sassoon – speaks on the inner lives of soldiers fighting in the trenches of World War I and what they think about as they head towards death.
- ‘Hours’ by Hazel Hall – describes how hours are experienced like “cities,” “forbidden music,” and in “mellow[er] tones.”