Love’s Dog by Jen Hadfield

Jen Hadfield’s Love’s Dog is a poem designed to really make the reader think. The style is employed, in particular, is one that invites the reader to contemplate the abstract nature of the topic, and this is a hallmark of a strong poem. Even the title is thought-provoking, if for no other reason than its complete lack of sense. Does love have a dog? Is love the abstract idea or its the dog the abstract idea? And why does love have a dog? Don’t some people hate dogs? Why equate the two?

The poem itself doesn’t discuss dogs very much, but it does attempt to break down the idea of “love,” doing so by utilizing a wide variety of metaphors and parallels, and explaining abstract ideas through concrete realities. It is not long, nor does it use very complicated language, but it is most definitely a poem with a lot to say.

Love's Dog by Jen Hadfield 

Love’s Dog by Jen Hadfield Analysis

Parallelism

One of the most striking elements of this poem is its constant use of parallels to enhance the various points being made. Parallelism is the repetition of grammatical conventions and words in a piece of writing, and its presence here is very obvious. Each line begins with the words “What I,” followed by either “hate” or “love,” and “about love is its,” which creates a pattern. This becomes familiar to the reader as they explore the story, and helps the poem to flow in a logical and natural way. Parallelism is especially effective when it is intentionally broken — the strong language in the first line of the second-to-last verse begins with “What I loathe” rather than what I love or hate. While “loathe” in itself is already a stronger evocation of emotion, it is made especially poignant by the jarring feeling of breaking the established pattern.

 

Metaphor Meaning Analysis

The various metaphors used to create meaning and evoke feeling are what drives this poem. Each line compares or contrasts two ideas about some representation of love.

Being diagnosed with something means learning that you have it; having a prognosis, on the other hand, means learning what that something’s course will be. In a similar way, realizing that you are in love is exciting and wonderful. By contrast, considering the idea of “the rest of your life” can be terrifying. The speaker here is saying they love the present of being in love, but are frightened by a future that includes it. Similarly, in the next couplet, the speaker examines the nature of love as a “give and take;” they hate the taking, but prefer the giving. Love can mean having to be selfless for another person’s selfishness, but the speaker doesn’t like that. They prefer for there to always be a balance.

The third couplet of Love’s Dog features two things the speaker loves about love; they suggest that love is a petting zoo, and that the person you love is its zookeeper. This makes sense — a petting zoo is a place where people are allowed to be affectionate, to interact with animals across the borders of species with the same gentle touch as one might offer their own loved ones. The zookeeper enables them to do so, making sure everyone involved is safe in the process. There is little not to love about this part of loving. Following this is another contrast between love and hate. The speaker loves that love is a truth serum, something to always bring out the honesty and openness in one’s partner, to let them in, and to know and love them as a whole. They hate the shrinking potion though, which suggests the opposite of the truth serum; they hate being read so openly because it makes them feel small and vulnerable.

Doubloons are rare pieces of money, and bird-bones greatly aid in the process of flying. To be rich and to be able to fly? That’s some great feeling right there, and it’s what the speaker is feeling as they experience love, like they don’t need anything else in the world; they are free. It is possible that the money represents one facet of freedom — freedom within human society — and that the bird bones represent another — freedom to escape human society.

In the next couplet, the metaphors switch to washing; when love is boil-washing, it is hated, but when it is a spin cycle it is great. This likely speaks to the process of being together, even if you’re all jumbled up in a great machine. Being boil washed, which implies heat and purging, feels unpleasant. But traveling around, practically stuck to your partner for the entire ride? That’s the part of love that sends happiness around and around.

The next verse of Love’s Dog, in a break from tradition, uses things that the speaker “loathes” and “hates” about love as the inspiration for the lines. Burnt toast, bonemeal, and bent cigarettes are all elements of love they detest. Each of these images presents the idea of something that has faded, or been consumed by another force. Is the speaker saying they hate it when a flame burns too hot and too fast, in the same way, love can so quickly come and go? Or are they conjuring images of blackened and decaying unpleasantness to hint at something darker behind love or romance? It is difficult to say.

The last couplet is very telling into the character of the narrator. They love the pirate but hate the sick parrot. Traditional pirate imagery has a parrot resting on the shoulder of the captain. The parrot is always cute, always young, and always healthy. But when the parrot gets sick, that perfect image is tainted. The pirate has to work hard to cure a sick parrot, and this is the part of the image that no one sees, because no one wants to see. Everyone wants a parrot on their shoulder; fewer people desire to look after a sick parrot.

Bringing together all of the elements of this poem is a difficult thing to do, because the amalgamation of all of these crazy images can be summarized in a single word — love. The use of metaphors to break down the abstract concept of love into something relatable and understandable means that Love’s Dog creates an image that is just as abstract as love itself, because it is love as it is defined by the speaker in the poem, and the person who wrote it. Were the reader of this poem to create their own metaphors for love, it is entirely conceivable that they would be just as strange and wonderful as those Hadfield has seemingly created for herself.

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