The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Dog” is composed in free verse, a style that can preserve the blunt effect of common speech. Without either “a” or “the” preceding it, the word “dog” has a linguistically rudimentary quality that is in keeping with the poem’s subject. “Dog” also spells “god” backward and thus anticipates one of the central concerns of the poem.

The poem begins with the dog of its title demonstrating that the canine is the measure of all things in its world. The first eighteen lines catalog the drunks, moons, fish, ants, and chickens that are the large and small of “his reality.” They show too the delightful naïveté of the dog’s view: Streetlights are “moons on trees”; fish lie on newsprint for no apparent reason; ants emerge mysteriously from holes; chickens’ bodies are for sale in one place, and their strangely dislocated heads appear elsewhere, consigned, presumably, to the garbage. The dog’s own qualities permeate all of his experience, measure it all, so that “the things he smells/ smell something like himself.”

With the third occurrence of the line “The dog trots freely in the street,” the catalog of perceptions continues, but the most noteworthy feature of lines 19 to 30 is the dog’s standard of value. As the dog continues to trot through the urban scene, cows and policemen appear. Only the sides of beef, however, are of “use,” since the dog can eat them. Policemen are inedible, but in the...

(The entire section is 551 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Dog” is one of a group of poems that were collected in the volume A Coney Island of the Mind under the title “Oral Messages” and were originally intended to be “spontaneously spoken” to jazz accompaniment. The repetition of words and phrases, an important source of formal patterns in “Dog,” would be as evident to the ear as to the eye. Many of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poems can be read with the syncopated swing of jazz or a shuffle blues, and “Dog” responds to such an approach. The poem’s rhythm is not perfectly consistent from line to line, but four-stress lines predominate. Many of them, such as “Fish on newsprint,” have few unstressed syllables, and such compression of stresses in the poem gives the impression of thoughts that are vivid and self-contained rather than complex, linked, and moving lyrically from one to the next. The simplicity of the language also helps convey the quality of the dog’s perceptions and the confident matter-of-factness of a consciousness untroubled by irony and self-doubt.

The staggered lines, beginning with line 57, continue the earlier form of the free verse, but the eye tends to follow them from left to right and to make them single lines in the process. This is also the section in which the poet’s presence is most obvious. The poem no longer describes what is perceived through the dog’s eyes, but rather represents the dog’s actions from the viewpoint of an observer. It does so...

(The entire section is 482 words.)