The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Gerald Stern’s “The Dog” is a free-verse dramatic monologue. In it, a dog speaks from the roadside where he lies dead. In the first third of the poem, the dog talks about his condition, explaining how he lay beside the road for hours before he died and how he looked after death. In the middle third of the poem the dog addresses the “lover of dead things” who will come to dispose of his body. Finally, the dog addresses the “great human heart” (which may be the same as the lover of dead things), asking it for forgiveness and love.

Stern is often compared to the nineteenth century American poet Walt Whitman for his sense of expansiveness and for his fondness for parallel series and hyperbole. All these qualities are apparent in “The Dog,” as is Stern’s attention to concrete detail. The dog, for example, describes his death with painful specificity, relating how he lay beside the road for two hours, whimpering and dying at last “by pulling the one leg up and stiffening.” He details the particular look of death—“the hair of the chin/ curled in mid-air.”

As the dog imagines the “lover of dead things” coming to dispose of his body, he expresses his fear that disgust may overtake the lover and cause him to push him perfunctorily into “that little valley” with his shoe, shutting out the memories of the dog in life and replacing those memories with “some other thing.”

At last the dog makes a sort of...

(The entire section is 491 words.)