A Dog has Died by Pablo Neruda is a heart-wrenching eulogy for the poet’s much-loved, deceased dog that also explores the dog’s personality and interactions with the speaker. It was written in Spanish and had been translated to English by Alfred Yankauer. Neruda explores themes of animal/human relationships, companionship, and the afterlife. The tone is measured and strikingly direct throughout much of A Dog Has Died. The poet takes a clear look at the life and death of his dog and what he expects for him in the afterlife.
A Dog has Died is an elegy written after the death of the poet’s reserved and yet joyful dog Chu-Tuh. Throughout the poem, the poet takes the reader through the different aspects of his dog’s personality. He was not over-affectionate or overbearing. The dog did as he liked when he wanted to. He gave Neruda just enough attention for them to understand one another. Neruda spends the last stanzas of the poem discussing the joy his dog took in everything. He could celebrate his life that humans don’t have.
Neruda is a great master of understatement, weaving the sparest details around the complexity of loss with a cry that carries its weight and does not ask to be comforted. He seems to reject sentimentality completely, shunning the fetishization of the corpse for a sober reflection on his mortality. And yet, he imagines a gentler universe for his beloved companion and almost dares to include himself in it. While careful to not romanticize anything, the poet offers proper praise, which honours a relationship between two beings with their own identities. Neruda’s friend was “never servile,” and “with no exaggerations.” It is the patience and acceptance of their journey together that he remembers with fondness and in recognition of the teacher in his companion.
This symbiosis is, to Neruda, more valuable than co-dependency, which is so often mistaken for love. Without the emotional complexity of human relationships, the time spent with his dog went deep into the heart of the present moment, yet still demanded an understanding, beyond attachment, that each moment must naturally and inevitably come to an end. “There are no good-byes for my dog who has died,” he reflects, “and we don’t now and never did lie to each other.” He ends his epithet celebrating a life lived passionately. It is this fullness and reality of life and death that needs no more elaboration, no more praise, and asks nothing of anyone but to take this example to heart.
In the first stanza, the speaker begins with a simple statement about his dog. He “has died”. Neruda addresses this loss in simple and direct language. There is nothing sentimental or emotional about these first lines. He buried his dog “next to a rusted old machine”.
Neruda’s emotional connection to his dog is explored in greater depth in the new lines, as are his beliefs about the afterlife. He speaks of how one day he too will be buried in the ground next to the old machine. This shows that he values the dog’s life alongside his own. The burial place is just as good for him as it is for his dog.
The next lines discuss the dog’s personality and Neruda’s belief and lack of belief in heaven. His dog had “poor manners” but he believes that there is a “heaven for all dogdom”. Somewhere his “dog waits for [his] arrival”. The last line holds an example of a simile. Neruda compares the dog’s tail to the movement of a fan that waves in “friendship”. Simple lines such as this give the reader insight into the poet’s relationship with his dog.
Rather than speaking of sadness, Neruda chooses to relive the happy moments the two shared. His dog was a companion who was “never servile”. He was more like a friend than a servant to Neruda but even then the friendship was difficult. The dog was aloof like a porcupine or a star. The dog was not overly affectionate which now seems to be something that Neruda appreciated.
There is a good example of alliteration with “filling” and “full” in line ten of this stanza. Neruda believes that his dog was superior to others in most respects.
The dog’s personality is fully fleshed out in the fourth stanza. He was, as the previous stanza stated, not overly affectionate. He did not demand too much attention nor did he give the poet more than he needed. The dog paid him just enough attention for them to understand one another.
Neruda saw a lot in his dog’s eyes including the special nature of their relationship. The dog’s “sweet and shaggy life” was spent with Neruda. He never asked for anything or troubled the poet with his presence. He was the perfect companion and now, as the first lines stated, “has died”.
The “envy” that Neruda feels for his dog is continued in the next lines. He also brings back the dog’s tail and how it moved while they were “on the shores of the sea”. The mood in these lines is peaceful and wistful. The speaker is looking back on a time in which everything seemed in order. They were together in a beautiful setting and his dog was as happy as it is possible to be.
There are further examples of alliteration in these lines with “held high” and and “face to face”. The imagery in these lines is also noteworthy. Neruda crafts a clear and impactful scene that appeals to several different senses.
There is a good example of repetition at the beginning of the sixth stanza. In this line, the poet uses the word “Joyful” three times. This is done to emphasize the limitless joy that his dog was capable of feeling. This was something that “only dogs know”. Humans do not have the same capacity. Although he does not state it directly it seems as though Neruda is jealous of this fact of life. They have a “shameless spirit” that humans can only envy.
Stanzas 7 and 8
The final two stanzas are the shortest of the poem with two lines each. The first of these couplets addresses the fact that there are now “no good-byes” for his dog. They always had an honest relationship and nothing has changed now that he’s gone. The simplest of the first lines of the poem return in the final couplet. He speaks directly about the death of his dog and how that is “all there is to it”.
Death, loss, and grief are just as much a reality as was the “joyful” and “shameless” spirit of Neruda’s dog. This reality is clear as is the imprint it has left behind.
The most striking feature of the poem is its direct and heartfelt narrative style. It feels like a confessional, with Neruda sharing his reflections on the love and companionship he shared with his dog. The directness and honesty of the poem yield a potent emotional impact and offer a distinct sense of authenticity to his mourning.
Neruda’s use of detailed, vivid imagery contributes to the raw emotional quality of the poem. He presents the dog not just as a pet, but as a companion, praising the joy and comfort brought by its presence. A noteworthy aspect of the poem is its exploration of death from a non-religious perspective, where Neruda chooses to believe his dog has gone to a better place but without subscribing to a particular doctrinal belief system. This presents an interesting perspective on death, one that is comforting but doesn’t fall into any traditional frames of reference.
Neruda also challenges traditional perspectives on animals’ understanding and experiences of the world. By assigning his dog human-like emotions and experiences, he brings attention to the depth and complexity of animal life, often overlooked or underrated. Importantly, A Dog Has Died works to validate the emotional depth of the bond between humans and their pets, highlighting how the passing of a pet results in a profound sense of loss and mourning akin to losing a beloved human companion.