Man’s Best Friend (and Master)
Mark Doty’s poem, “Golden Retrievals,” shows the reader more than just the thoughts of a dog going for a walk. Through various poetic techniques, Doty is able to express the basis for a very serious human ailment which is present in (nearly) all of us. This chronic crisis of which we are guilty of is literally expressed in words better than any human could say. In this poem, Doty is showing us that dogs, even though they are much more simple-minded creatures than us, possess profound wisdom which we would do well to take heed. Not only that, but the situation is taken to a whole different level in the final two lines.
The most basic element of this poem ...view middle of the document...
The subject matter of the dog’s thoughts after this point, however, abruptly change from observations on what the dog sees and smells to observations on the human who is walking him.
The dog begins addressing his owner: “And you? / Either you’re sunk in the past, half our walk” (6-7). What could be argued as the main “lesson” from the poem is what the dog says next. He scolds us (phrases like “sunk in the past” , “you’re off in a fog” , and “my haze-headed, you”  all bring us to the conclusion that the tone of the dog here is a chastising one) for allowing our minds to wander into realms in which we have no control over, the past and the future. “Fog” and “haze-headed” also portray that the past and future can never be as clear as the present. This is such a simple idea for the dog since his entire life is just one new sensation after another.
The whole poem is heavily punctuated. The first stanza alone has ten pauses in it from punctuation, while both the second and third have nine each, and the last two lines have six breaks just by themselves. Doing this keeps the reader right here all the time. There is never an opportunity for the reader to stay on one thought for longer than a couple of seconds. This technique makes the poem feel a lot longer than a mere 14 lines; which is appropriate, considering the different layers the poem has.
The poem uses a form which is very unfamiliar. It sort of has a meter (ten syllables per line), and a lack of any real rhythm besides its bizarre rhyme scheme; all of this, however, serves a purpose. The “pentameter” of the poem roughly shows that there is some sort of “form” to the poem. It isn’t just some willy-nilly rambling of a crazy mutt, but something more civil, perhaps worth taking notice of. It is, however, truly a dog who is speaking to us (“us,” taking the role of the human taking this dog for a walk). This becomes clear by the conversational tone of the entire poem, and using language which isn’t focused around finding the right pattern of stresses. The rhyme scheme is perhaps the most interesting of these three elements.
The rhyme scheme isn’t regular, nor are all of the rhymes perfect, but on the contrary; they are mostly slant rhymes (this assists in the keeping of the very “natural” feel to the poem). If we look at just the final words in each line we find that the scheme is abba ccdd efef. (Looking at just this last word in each line is a bit odd, since so many of the lines are enjambed one typically would not pause there to hear the rhymes.) The scheme here is so odd that it truly does reflect the wisdom which the dog is trying to portray to the human. The past and present don’t matter, just the here and now. By doing this it shows that he isn’t looking ahead to what the rhyme scheme is going to be for the next stanza, or what it was for the previous one.
There is a slight shift in the tone of the speaker in the middle of the second stanza as he begins...