Death is the issue at the heart of Richard Wilbur's poem "The Pardon." This is apparent from the opening line, "My dog lay dead five days without a grave." What is not immediately apparent, however, is that this is not simply a poem about a young boy's sadness over the loss of his dog. What Wilbur discusses in this piece is much more profound, cutting through the superficialities of death and confronting fears and doubts that all of us experience at different points in our lives. This is a poem about atonement, about facing the mistakes of the past and confronting them directly. More specifically, it is about reconciling ourselves with death and everything that life's deepest tragedies entail. The adult narrator of the poem is haunted by his past, unable to cope with feelings and emotions that he had as a youth. He even seems to have attempted to repress a portion of his life. However, as a result of a chillingly realistic dream, he is at last forced to face what he thought was buried for good. The realization that comes because of this, the realization that death is not something to run from, is the true meaning of the poem and the crux of what Wilbur is trying to say to the reader.
"The Pardon" can be divided into three distinct parts. The first sub-section is made up of stanzas one and two, which detail a tragic event that occurred in the life of the narrator when he was ten years old: the death of his dog. It is in these first eight lines that the narrator tries to give the reader an understanding of what he felt when this happened. He uses very descriptive words and phrases, providing vivid imagery of the various sights, smells, and sounds that he experienced. H...
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...ightful look into death and the fears and doubts that it induces within all of us. The narrator of the poem is a man who has never been able to confront death, beginning with the loss of his dog at the age of ten. He has chosen to avoid it his entire life, rather than attempting to understand it. It is finally as an adult that a vivid dream causes him to finally face his fears: he sees his dog rising out of its grave and begins to ask it for forgiveness. The dog in the dream can be seen as a representation of his trepidation. Once he is able to confront it and ask for its pardon, he can finally begin to cope with the idea of death.
Jarrell, Randall. "Fifty Years of American Poetry." The Third Book of Criticism. NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1969.
Wilbur, Richard. "Mayflies." Mayflies: New Poems and Translations. NY: Harcourt Brace, 2000.
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