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The Pardon -- Richard Wilbur

Guest poem sent in by Michael Rudko as part of
the recent dream theme
(Poem #1256) The Pardon
 My dog lay dead five days without a grave
 In the thick of summer, hid in a clump of pine
 And a jungle of grass and honey-suckle vine.
 I who had loved him while he kept alive

 Went only close enough to where he was
 To sniff the heavy honeysuckle-smell
 Twined with another odor heavier still
 And hear the flies' intolerable buzz.

 Well, I was ten and very much afraid.
 In my kind world the dead were out of range
 And I could not forgive the sad or strange
 In beast or man. My father took the spade

 And buried him. Last night I saw the grass
 Slowly divide (it was the same scene
 But now it glowed a fierce and mortal green)
 And saw the dog emerging. I confess

 I felt afraid again, but still he came
 In the carnal sun, clothed in a hymn of flies,
 And death was breeding in his lively eyes.
 I started in to cry and call his name,

 Asking forgiveness of his tongueless head.
 ..I dreamt the past was never past redeeming:
 But whether this was false or honest dreaming
 I beg death's pardon now. And mourn the dead.
-- Richard Wilbur
           1950

The poem is about the avoidance of and ultimate confrontation with
mortality.  But on a much more immediate level it's about loving a dog and
dreading its death, one of my life's great realities.

The ten year old boy is able to admit his love only as long as the dog "kept
alive" (great use of the word "kept") and is unwilling or unable to even
look at the dog's dead body.  The most he can do is "sniff" the odor of
decay which is marvelously "twined" with the smell of the honeysuckle, and
briefly tolerate the flies' "intolerable buzz".  His world is "kind", and he
blames (can't "forgive") the dog for dying.  He reveals both his inability
to face death's harsh reality and his deeper intuitive awareness of its
meaning with the euphemistic, powerful phrase "the sad or strange/in beast
or man".  He shirks his responsibility, and relies on his father to perform
the ritual burial of his pet.

When the dog returns to the boy years later in a marvelous, terrible dream,
it's the "same scene" but different.  The green of pine and honey-suckle has
a "fierce and mortal" glow.  The "intolerable buzz" has become a hymn of
flies.  The dog crawls out of the jungle with his "lively eyes" alive with
death, probably maggots.  And the man at last returns to his boyhood fear
without evasion, crying and calling out the dog's name (which in another
great touch we never discover, as if it were too precious to reveal).
Finally, the boy who "could not forgive" is forced to ask forgiveness of a
"tongueless" dog unable to offer that most sacred of canine kindnesses, a
lick.

In the poem's powerful finale, Wilbur reveals the deeper meaning of the
dream ("the past is never past redeeming"), dispenses with it ("whether this
be false or honest"), and assumes the awesome duty of begging pardon of and
mourning for his dead, both beast and man.

The formality of the poem makes it.  It could never be so solemn and
forceful in free verse.  It meets Nabokov's test, fusing head and heart and
yielding the salutary spinal tingle that is the signal of great art.

Michael

50 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Anonymous said...

i loved this poem it was a bit difficult to interpret but i enjoyed this poem

viagra online said...

This poem remember me when my dog spoon died two years ago , I wrote a similar poem but I burn it because I fely so sad and blue.

Busana Muslim said...

This poem remember me when my dog spoon died two years ago , I wrote a similar poem but I burn it because I fely so sad and blue.

Jasa Penerjemah Tersumpah | Jasa Penerjemah | Penerjemah Resmi said...

This poem remember me when my dog spoon died two years ago , I wrote a similar poem but I burn it because I fely so sad and blue.

Inversiones en oro said...

Hello, congrats, good poem.

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Anonymous said...

MOTHER FUCKER

Anonymous said...

:P

Anonymous said...

love this peom!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Writer's Literary Muse said...

Any poem written by Richard Wilbur is simply astonishing and this is no exception

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