The poem is a lament about the loss of Walcott’s pet dog. Throughout the poem, he describes how it feels to lose such a close companion to him and therefore reminisces the time when he had him.
Oddjob, a Bull Terrier | Summary and Analysis
Oddjob, a Bull Terrier | Analysis, Lines 1- 31
You prepare for one sorrow,
but another comes.
It is not like the weather,
you cannot brace yourself,
the unreadiness is all.
Your companion, the woman,
the friend next to you,
the child at your side,
and the dog,
we tremble for them,
we look seaward and muse
it will rain.
We shall get ready for rain;
you do not connect
the sunlight altering
the darkening oleanders
in the sea garden,
the gold going out of the palms.
You do not connect this,
the fleck of the drizzle
on your flesh,
with the dog’s whimper,
the thunder doesn’t frighten,
the readiness is all;
what follows at your feet
is trying to tell you
the silence is all:
it is deeper than the readiness,
it is sea-deep,
The author of the poem starts the poem on a very sad note and says that humans cannot be fully prepared for a catastrophe to hit them, because they get ready to face one thing but an entirely different calamity befalls them. The reader sympathizes with the poet because often people face such hardships that they weren’t ready for. Sorrow comes at unexpected times and its arrival cannot be predetermined. The poet further goes on to say that sorrow is not like the weather; one cannot be ready for it to approach. One may argue that the weather is also erratic and unpredictable. However, the author here means that when the weather changes, it changes gradually and people are able to see the changes with their eyes, the clouds darkening, thunder rumbling etc. but when it comes to grief, there is no precedence. It approaches all at once and people are not able to see its arrival. The lines make the reader contemplate and realize that the poet is telling the truth and that no one is ever able to sense sorrow until it is there and then it is too late.
The speaker of the poem is surrounded by several loved ones. He has his wife with him; a friend of his is sitting beside him, his child is present and lastly, his dog are all sitting in the vicinity of each other. Everyone starts trembling as if sensing something wrong. It is true that while no one can predict anything, humans do have a sixth sense and sometimes, feel when things are going wrong. The reader knows that something terrible is going to happen; the poet had foreshadowed it in the beginning lines. They shake off their sense of dread and look towards the shore wondering if it is going to rain. The setting of this poem is gloomy and dark and it is visible from the first lines themselves. The speaker and his companions’ ‘waiting for rain’ is a metaphor for them waiting for something bad to happen.
The poet says that he has to ‘get ready for rain’; perhaps he has a sense of some danger approaching. But it is a question as to how is he going to get ready? Is he going to find some shelter and hide in there? The reader is not sure. The weather starts to get gloomy and the reader gets a sense of wrongness; that something bad is going to happen. Sunlight starts altering and it starts getting dark and the environment starts darkening, the poet sees that the gold colour of the palm trees starts disappearing along with the vibrant hue of oleander. It starts raining and the poet feels his clothes starting to get wet because of the rain.
The poet says that he is too lost in his thought and neither he nor anybody else connects this to the whimpers of the dog, the thunder is no longer able to frighten the speaker, the speaker’s dog follows him steadily and it appears as if he is trying to say something that the reader is not able to comprehend. The plane suddenly goes silent as well with the dog. It is possible that he is no longer able to breathe and does not make a single sound. The silence makes the poet hysterical and he realizes that his dog is no longer with him. The loss of a pet is a monumental thing and people are often unable to get over it. The same thing happens with the speaker, he has lost his dog and he goes silent for a long while. He reminisces the moments spent with the dog and gets lost in those memories. The poet says that his silence is because of the love he feels for his little companion and he wants to mourn him properly.
Oddjob, a Bull Terrier | Analysis, Lines 32-51
is stronger than thunder,
we are stricken dumb and deep
as the animals who never utter love
as we do, except
it becomes unutterable
and must be said,
in a whimper,
in the drizzle that comes to our eyes
not uttering the loved thing’s name,
the silence of the dead,
the silence of the deepest buried love is
the one silence,
and whether we bear it for beast,
for child, for woman, or friend,
it is the one love, it is the same,
and it is blest
deepest by loss
it is blest, it is blest.
The silence is the only companion of the poet now, because his faithful and loyal friend, his dog, is no longer in this world. The poet’s silence screams louder than any thunder could. The speaker curses himself for not understanding the language of the dog just because he wasn’t able to tell him about the love he felt by speaking. Though animals are not able to declare their love towards their fellow humans, it is pretty much understandable with the way they are with their human counterparts. The poet tries, but is unable to form the words to bid a proper goodbye to his friend. He loses his sense of speech and no matter how hard he tries; the only thing that comes out of his mouth is a whimper. He starts weeping for his friend who has left him.
The speaker cannot do much except cry and the love he has for his dog, is only expressed through these tears. He is so drowned with sadness that he cannot even utter the name of the ‘loved thing’, he seems unable to comprehend that his faithful companion is no longer in this world, and the pain seems unbearable to him. He seems to find no words. The reader grieves along with the speaker for the loss of the loved companion of the poet. The poet looks deep into him and finds nothing but emptiness and silence. And he says that such silence is the silence when people lose something. No matter who he loses, the silence will be the same. He does not utter a single word but he hopes that his loved companion would understand his silence.
About the Author- Derek Walcott
Sir Derek Alton Walcott (23 January 1930 – 17 March 2017) was a Saint Lucian poet and playwright. He received the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature. He was the University of Alberta’s first distinguished scholar in residence, where he taught undergraduate and graduate writing courses. He also served as a Professor of Poetry at the University of Essex from 2010 to 2013. His works include the Homeric epic poem Omeros (1990), which many critics view “as Walcott’s major achievement.” In addition to winning the Nobel Prize, Walcott received many literary awards over the course of his career, including an Obie Award in 1971 for his play Dream on Monkey Mountain, a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award, a Royal Society of Literature Award, the Queen’s Medal for Poetry, the inaugural OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, the 2011 T. S. Eliot Prize for his book of poetry White Egrets and the Griffin Trust For Excellence in Poetry Lifetime Recognition Award in 2015.