The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Funeral Oration for a Mouse” is a short poem in free verse, its thirty-seven lines divided into three stanzas of unequal length. The title, in comically dignifying a mere mouse with a grand “funeral oration,” prepares the reader for the poem’s leveling of human and beast. Although at first sight the orator (or the speaker of the poem) may seem lowered in stooping to such a low theme, it becomes clear from the body of the poem that the mouse, in view of its great determination and courage, is indeed the more dignified of the two.

The poem begins as a meditation upon the qualities, both good and bad, of a mouse that the speaker has recently caught in a mousetrap. The speaker addresses himself to his Lord, as befitting a funeral speech, and, though there are no descriptions of the speaker’s immediate surroundings, it can be assumed the mouse is either buried, or about to be buried, in the speaker’s backyard or else is being laid to rest in the garbage—probably the latter, given Alan Dugan’s typically acerbic imagination. The speaker immediately links himself to the mouse as “an anxious brother” and, nine lines down, as “a guest/ who shared our board.” He characterizes the mouse as paradoxically combining health and disease and as a quiet, furtive creature which can nevertheless, for “some ladies,” cause a stir. In the last two lines of the stanza, he reveals the dual causes of the mouse’s demise—the trap and the mouse’s...

(The entire section is 467 words.)