‘A Dog Named Beau’, also known as just ‘Beau,’ was written by actor James Stewart. It was recited on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1981 and was published eight years later in a collection titled Jimmy Stewart and his Poems. Beau was a golden retriever who became terminally ill while Stewart was working on a film.
This poem explores the themes of animal-human relationships, companionship, and death. The tone is somber throughout, although there are a few lighter and humorous moments when the poet recalls happier times.
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Summary of A Dog Named Beau
The poem is a heartfelt elegy dedicated to a much-loved deceased pet. The speaker, James Stewart, begins this piece by talking about the disobedient nature of his dog. He wasn’t perfect. In fact, he hardly ever did what anyone wanted him to. He often bit strangers and made a scene while they were walking.
Despite his faults, they loved him. He would climb into bed with Stewart at night and provide comfort when it was hard for him to get to sleep. The poem concludes with the revelation that the dog is dead and that that comfort is now missing.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of A Dog Named Beau
‘A Dog Named Beau’ by James Stewart is a seventeen stanza elegy that is divided primarily into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. There are two stanzas towards the end of the poem that break this pattern. Stanza thirteen has five lines, making it a quintain, and number seventeen is a couplet, meaning it has two lines. An elegy is a poem written in honour of someone who has died. In this case, a dog. Although less common than elegies about people, there are several examples of poems written in honour of recently deceased animals, specifically dogs. Lovers of poetry might also look to Lord Byron’s ‘Epitaph to a Dog’.
The stanzas of ‘A Dog Named Beau’ follow a rhyme scheme of ABCB, changing sounds from stanza to stanza. But, there are a few moments where the pattern changes or the rhymes are closer to half than full rhymes.
Poetic Techniques in A Dog Named Beau
Stewart makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘A Dog Named Beau’. These include, but are not limited to, alliteration, sibilance enjambment, imagery. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “Because” and “bones” in stanza six line four, and “hand” and “hair” in stanza thirteen.
Sibilance is similar to alliteration but it is concerned with soft vowel sounds such as “s” and “th”. This kind of repetition usually results in a prolonged hissing or rushing sound. It is often used to mimic another sound, like water, wind, or any kind of fluid movement. For example, “sit” and “stay” in stanza two, line three, and “stare” and “stroke” in stanza fifteen.
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 one and two of the first stanza and lines one and two of the third stanza.
Imagery refers to the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. Traditionally, the word “image” is related to visual sights, things that a reader can imagine seeing, but the imagery is much more than that. It is something one can sense with their five senses. In this case, a reader can look to the image of the dog in bed, giving his owner comfort, as one of the most vivid examples.
Stewart also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. There are very obvious examples in stanzas nine, ten, eleven, and twelve where “And” begins several lines.
Analysis of A Dog Named Beau
Stanzas One and Two
He never came to me when I would call
Unless I had a tennis ball,
Or sit or stay,
He did things his way.
In the first stanzas of this poem, the speaker begins by describing his dog’s disobedient but loving nature. He would never come when Stewart called unless he wanted to. More often than not he didn’t come at all. But, this was not something that in the end was bothersome. This is emphasized by the second stanza which adds that he learned to do things “his way”. He never accommodated anyone’s training of commands.
These first two stanzas are great examples of how the rhyme scheme can change on occasion in this poem. The first quatrain rhymes AABA and the second rhymes CDEE. There is also an example of alliteration in the third line of the second stanza with “sit” and “stay”.
Stanzas Three and Four
Discipline was not his bag
But when you were with him things sure didn’t drag.
The gas man wouldn’t read our meter,
He said we owned a real man-eater.
In the third and fourth stanzas of ‘A Dog Called Beau,’ the speaker says “Discipline was not his bag”. This is very clear by now, but it was so prevalent in the poet’s perception of his dog that it is necessary to reemphasize it and continue discussing it for a few more lines. He would “dig up a rosebush just to spite me”.
It turns out that biting was something that the do was known for, for a reason or for no reason he’d bite random people and his master. There is an amusing rhyme at the end of the fourth stanza with “meter” and “man-eater”. Although in general, the mood of this poem is solemn and reflective, there are a few lighter moments throughout.
Stanzas Five and Six
He set the house on fire
But the story’s long to tell.
The old one and I brought up the rear
Because our bones were sore.
The fifth stanza is also amusing. It alludes to a longer story that the poet does not go into where Beau set the house on fire. Everything turned out all right, but it was obviously a memorable occasion. Bypassing it as Stewart does, and giving it only a few words, he is alluding to the possibility that there were other occasions where similar scary, but in the end fine, things happened because of Beau.
The next stanza begins to transition into a new section of the poem. It speaks to his energy and willingness to always plow ahead on the walks they took.
Stanzas Seven and Eight
He would charge up the street with Mom hanging on,
What a beautiful pair they were!
It was just to make sure that the old one was there
And would follow him where he was bound.
These next few stanzas are wistful. They include memories of the past the speaker has, but can no longer return to. They were happy times that included light moments of stress with Beau pulling ahead and creating a bit of a stir by dragging “Mom”.
The dog’s kindness comes through in the eighth line when the poet describes his willingness to stop and make sure that the “old one” was near at hand. If so, they’d continue on and everything would be alright.
Stanzas Nine and Ten
We are early-to-bedders at our house–
I guess I’m the first to retire.
He would push it under the bed with his nose
And I’d fish it out with a smile.
Stewart joins together the word “early-to-bedders” in the ninth stanza to describe how the family when to bed. This is the first time that he dedicates a portion of the poem to himself. The first person pronoun is used several times in the ninth stanza. Anaphora is also used in these two stanzas with “And” beginning four of the eight lines.
There is a warm memory in the tenth stanza where Stewart talks about fishing the tennis ball out from under the bed for Beau. This moment, and several others in the seventeen stanzas of ‘A Dog Called Beau’ have memories such as this one where a reader who has owned and loved a dog, or anyone who has spent time with one, will recognize and perhaps connect with.
Stanzas Eleven and Twelve
And before very long
He’d tire of the ball
And lie between us,
And I’d pat his head.
The twelfth stanza has an important reference that comes back up again in the final lines. As they are all going to bed the dog would climb in as well. Stewart would “pat his head” and acknowledge his presence. He was a comfort to the family. Anaphora continues to be used in these lines and the next with “And” beginning several more phrases.
Stanzas Thirteen and Fourteen
And there were nights when I’d feel his stare
And I’d wake up and he’d be sitting there
And I reach out my hand and stroke his hair.
Of the dark, of life, of lots of things,
And he’d be glad to have me near.
‘A Dog Named Beau’ starts to conclude in these lines. There are examples of sibilance and alliteration in the thirteenth and fourteenth stanzas. With words like “stare” and “sitting” as well as “life” and “lots”. The comforting nature of Beau is reflected in the fourteenth stanza. He’d help Stewart through the night whenever fears of life or the dark came into his mind.
Stanzas Fifteen, Sixteen, and Seventeen
And Now he’s dead.
And there are nights when I think I feel him
Oh, how I wish that wasn’t so,
I’ll always love a dog named Beau.
There is a sudden turn in the fifteenth stanza. The speaker reveals to all those listening that his dog has died. The line is short and to the point, “And now he’s dead”. Despite this, and in what is certainly the most emotional part of the poem, the speaker describes reaching out and trying to pet his dog in the middle of the night. But, he’s no longer there.
The poem ends with a two-line couplet that expresses Stewart’s pure grief over the loss of his dog and the impossibility of changing that fact.