The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Dead Gallop,” also variously translated from the Spanish as “Death Gallop” or “Gallop Toward Death,” is the opening poem of Pablo Neruda’s Residence cycle. The poem is written in five stanzas, each consisting of an uneven number of lines, the longer opening stanzas ending with considerably shorter lines. In reading the poem through, one gets a feeling of galloping or moving rapidly toward an abrupt ending. Feeling the dramatic impact of the poem is important to understanding the various disjointed images that describe the speaker’s movement toward death.

The poem begins with what appear to be sagacious observations about nature; each element seems connected to a crucial function in the universe. Ashes, seas, bells, and plums constitute some of the many sights, sounds, and smells of life. Oddly, however, these objects do not have any obvious connection with one another, although they are linked by the fact that they are “like” or “as” one another in certain ways.

In the second stanza, elemental and essential things are further examined in images such as wheels, the limbs of trees, and lilacs. The third stanza continues the span across the natural world, although the emphasis is on the way things move or remain still, depending on “what my pale heart” expects from the experiences themselves. With the first reference to a personal “my” in the poem, the speaker introduces himself. Now the reader realizes that a...

(The entire section is 509 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Neruda was in his twenties when he composed the Residence poems. The tone and subject matter of “Dead Gallop” reveal a youthful cynicism about the world, despite the abundance of energy contained in that work. The reader enters into the speaker’s subjective vision of the world.

The images appear before the speaker in disjointed fashion, although he presents them as though they somehow connect or correspond with one another. The lines are linked by the poem’s dependence on simile, a figure of speech in which unlike things are compared. The repetition of “like,” “such as,” and “as if” serves to join the various images. As the reader “gallops” along with the speaker, however, it becomes more obvious that the images are in fact disjointed and incomplete. The opening stanza itself is an extensive catalog of dismembered images which do not add up to a tangible whole. This strategy reappears in successive stanzas.

Simile is employed as a poetic device throughout the poem. The speaker compares seemingly incomparable things: shapes to sounds, places to moving things, and silence to flowers. Each comparison ends by moving onto still other comparisons, until the stanza ends with a period. In fact, the images do not necessarily have an external correspondence to the material world. They do not appear to be naturally or logically ordered. The subjective observations are conveyed by the speaker’s authoritative manner in presenting...

(The entire section is 510 words.)