Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Many years after their publication, Neruda denounced the Residence poems, calling them harmful and atrocious. Understood in the context of Neruda’s work, “Dead Gallop” may be considered an early poem in which the youthful poet experiments with a negative vision that nevertheless accurately reflects a reality of life and death.

The effect of “Dead Gallop” is unsettling, because uncertainty about death naturally makes humans anxious. In a world with so much movement and energy, how could an event suddenly eradicate and silence everything? The speaker does not go gently into this nothingness, and the “gallop” hints at the speaker’s strength and determined spirit.

In what seems at first an entirely disordered and meaningless poem, the idea of a “gallop” itself restores meaning and credibility to the speaker’s observations. A gallop is literally a manner in which horses move; a dictionary definition states that a gallop is “faster than a canter and slower than a run.” It is a very specific and ordered way of moving. Associating the gallop with horses also makes one think of the classical metaphor of death as a horseman who seizes the living when their time on earth has expired. The poem as a whole is, therefore, this movement away from earth and toward the speaker’s consciousness as he considers the inevitability of death.

The last two stanzas do not propose a joyous version of this state of affairs. In what...

(The entire section is 464 words.)