Saturday, January 18, 2014

Analysis of "If I Were a Dog" by Richard Shelton

Original poem reprinted online here: Analysis of "If I Were a Dog" by Richard Shelton
Originally read: July 11, 2013
More information about the Poet: Richard Shelton

The poem works as a narrative with the speaker imagining his life as a dog.  However, the poem is not as simple as this.  The poem where it hiccups is what interests me, but the hiccups aren't at the end; rather, they are spliced into the narrative and a very forthcoming as though to state, "this is different, but what does it matter in a poem like this."

"Poem like this" well a persona poem is a tricky thing -- especially from the point of view of a dog.  There's inherent humor there.  And the first stanza focusing on:

     peeing a little here and there
     wherever I felt the urge
     having a good time what the hell
     saving some because it's a long road

well, peeing.  Marking territory.  The first hiccup happens in stanza two with the lines, "but since I'm not a dog / I walk straight down the road / trying to get home before dark" and the juxtaposition of persona and the person continues the humor here.  Although scrutiny could be applied towards the person, I think the humor and the narrative keeps the momentum going in this poem.

Which, by stanza three,  goes back to the persona of the dog and the "seriousness" of the poem applies to, "if I were a dog and I had a master / who bet me I would run away"  the poem is not about the person but the persona, and how the persona's experience could be applied to human experience.  Yes, being beat is bad, but, "until I found a master who loved me / I could tell by his smell and I / would lick his face so he knew" is cute, but awkward.  The lines diffuse the "seriousness" of the situation and the focus here is on affection.

And the shift is on to a woman owner, "I would protect her we could go / everywhere together even down this / dark road"  And here the reference to the dark road -- the road that the person tries to get home before is implied here, but more importantly for me the lack of punctuation really develops well here.  The lack of punctuation brings a certain speed and want from the persona.  But also the tone matches a sense of excitement like, "sometimes in the afternoon we could / got to the park and she would throw / a stick I would bring it back to her"  These aren't separate actions -- these are the same according to the speaker.

So how to slow down -- well italics works

     each time I put the stick at her feet
     I would say this is my heart
     and she would say I will make it fly
     but you must bring it back to me
     I would always bring it back to her
     and to no other if I were a dog

The lines really slow down with the italics which represent dialogue.  And, yes, what is read is romantic -- edging on sentimental.  And so the last line, "and to no other if I were a dog" comes back to the notion that this poem is from a persona stand point.  Now, the person stand point -- does this mean the person is the opposite.  Not necessarily.  I'ts implied with the reoccurring image of the dark, and the inference is possibly there.  But the focus, to me, for this poem is the actions of the dog, the lack of punctuation, and want for love.

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