In ‘A Dog Has Died’ Neruda explores themes of animal/human relationships, companionship, and the afterlife. The tone is measured and strikingly direct throughout much of this piece. The poet takes a clear look at the life and death of his dog and what he expects for him in the afterlife.
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Summary of A Dog Has Died
Throughout the poem, the poet takes the reader through the different aspects of his dog’s personality. He was not over-affectionate or overbearing. The dog did as he liked when he wanted to. He gave Neruda just enough attention for them to understand one another. Neruda spends the last stanzas of the poem discussing the joy his dog took in everything. He had the capacity to celebrate his life that humans don’t have.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of A Dog Has Died
‘A Dog Has Died’ by Pablo Neruda is an eight-stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. This version of this poem used for this analysis was translated by Alfred Yankauer. The shortest stanza has two lines and the longest has twelve. There is no single rhyme scheme that unites this piece nor there is there a common metrical pattern. But the fact that this is a translation from Spanish should be taken into consideration. There are very likely examples of half-rhyme and full rhyme at the ends of lines and within them in the original version.
Poetic Techniques in A Dog Has Died
Neruda makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘A Dog Has Died’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, simile, repetition, and enjambment. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “dog” and “died” in the first stanza and in the seventh and “manners” and “materialist” in stanza two.
Repetition the use and reuse of a specific technique, word, tone or phrase within a poem. There is a good example of this technique in the sixth stanza where Neruda uses the word “Joyful” three times in a row. This was done in order to emphasize his dog’s endless capacity for joy and the fact that he can take pleasure in everything that happens. It is something that Neruda envies.
Enjambement 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 two and three in the third stanza and lines one and two of the fifth stanza.
A simile is a comparison between two unlike things that uses the words “like” or “as”. A poet uses this kind of figurative language to say that one thing is similar to another, not like metaphor, that it “is” another. One example appears in the third stanza with the line “His friendship for me, like that of a porcupine”.
Analysis of A Dog Has Died
In the first stanza of ‘A Dog Has Died’ the speaker begins with a simple statement about his dog. He “has died”. Neruda addresses this loss in simple and direct language. There is nothing sentimental or emotional about these first lines. He buried his dog “next to a rusted old machine”.
Neruda’s emotional connection to his dog is explored in greater depth in the new lines, as are his beliefs about the afterlife. He speaks of how one day he too will be buried in the ground next to the old machine. This shows that he values the dog’s life alongside his own. The burial place is just as good for him as it is for his dog.
The next lines discuss the dog’s personality and Neruda’s belief and lack of belief in heaven. His dog had “poor manners” but he believes that there is a “heaven for all dogdom”. Somewhere his “dog waits for [his] arrival”. The last line holds an example of a simile. Neruda compares the dog’s tail to the movement of a fan that waves in “friendship”. Simple lines such as this give the reader insight into the poet’s relationship with his dog.
Rather than speaking of sadness, Neruda chooses to relive the happy moments the two shared. His dog was a companion who was “never servile”. He was more like a friend than a servant to Neruda but even then the friendship was difficult. The dog was aloof like a porcupine or a star. The dog was not overly affectionate which now seems to be something that Neruda appreciated.
There is a good example of alliteration with “filling” and “full” in line ten of this stanza. Neruda believes that his dog was superior to others in most respects.
The dog’s personality is fully fleshed out in the fourth stanza. He was, as the previous stanza stated, not overly affectionate. He did not demand too much attention nor did he give the poet more than he needed. The dog paid him just enough attention for them to understand one another.
Neruda saw a lot in his dog’s eyes including the special nature of their relationship. The dog’s “sweet and shaggy life” was spent with Neruda. He never asked for anything or troubled the poet with his presence. He was the perfect companion and now, as the first lines stated, “has died”.
The “envy” that Neruda feels for his dog is continued in the next lines. He also brings back in the dog’s tail and how it moved while they were “on the shores of the sea”. The mood in these lines is peaceful and wistful. The speaker is looking back on a time in which everything seemed in order. They were together in a beautiful setting and his dog was as happy as it is possible to be.
There are further examples of alliteration in these lines with “held high” and and “face to face”. The imagery in these lines is also noteworthy. Neruda crafts a clear and impactful scene that appeals to several different senses.
There is a good example of repetition at the beginning of the sixth stanza. In this line, the poet uses the word “Joyful” three times. This is done in order to emphasize the limitless joy that his dog was capable of feeling. This was something that “only dogs know”. Humans do not have the same capacity. Although he does not state it directly it seems as though Neruda is jealous of this fact of life. They have a “shameless spirit” that humans can only envy.
Stanzas Seven and Eight
The final two stanzas of ‘A Dog Has Died’ are the shortest of the poem with two lines each. The first of these couplets addresses the fact that there are now “no good-byes” for his dog. They always had an honest relationship and nothing has changed now that he’s gone. The simplest of the first lines of the poem return in the final couplet. He speaks directly about the death of his dog and how that is “all there is to it”.