Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 464

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.

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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 “exists between night and time,” one can only move along the external world and allow images to impress one with their vitality or their progressive decomposition. The world itself is “oceanic,” and one’s gallop through earth should be directed at finding meanings even though one cannot be sure exactly what things mean. One may never know.

Even when things die, though, other things continue to live, and new things are born. The speaker stops short of an easy optimism because, truthfully, he does not know any more than this. At the end, even “the great calabash trees” and “pity-laden plants” emphasize the state of unknowing; even in their fullness, they are “dark with heavy drops.”

“Dead Gallop” is at times burdened by the philosophical queries it proposes. By the end, it exhausts itself; all that was swift and moving has become “motionless, like the pulley loose within itself.” One may take this to mean that futility governs much of what one does in life and that everything is guaranteed only by the fact of death; however, if the poem refuses to give simple answers about the mysteries of death, it also disavows the possibility of such an easy summation. Its strength lies in the ponderous effect it creates as it proposes a collected series of thoughtful images that relate to both life and death.

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