Friday, March 26, 2010

Canis Major by Robert Frost - a Poetry Friday post

Today would have been Robert Frost's birthday, in honor of which I am posting a short poem of his from the collection entitled West-Running Brook, of which I am the delighted owner of a first edition (as those of you who remember this post will recall). In fact, the reason I know my book is a first edition is directly related to today's poem, since my book, like all the first edition copies, has the word "roams" in the final line of the poem, as I've typed below. In all later editions, the Overdog romps through the dark, a much more playful sort of conclusion.

Canis Major
by Robert Frost

The great Overdog,
That heavenly beast
With a star in one eye,
Gives a leap in the east.

He dances upright
All the way to the west
And never once drops
On his forefeet to rest.

I'm a poor underdog,
But tonight I will bark
With the great Overdog
That roams through the dark.

Form: Were you to number the lines of the poem, you'd find that the even-numbered lines rhyme in pairs (beast/east, west/rest, bark/dark). You'd find that Frost varies the precise meter within the lines (sometimes two anapests (ta-da-DUM ta-da-DUM) and sometimes an iamb followed by an anapest (ta-DUM ta-da-DUM), but each line contains two stressed syllables. The choice of meter gives the verse a skipping sort of feel when read aloud.

Analysis: Canis Major is the name of one of the major constellations. The "greater dog" contains Sirius ("the dog star"), which is the brightest star in the night sky. The big dog "follows" Orion the hunter through the night sky, and is depicted above in a constellation card published in London around 1825. His "upright" position is referenced in the poem, as is the idea that the constellation moves across the night sky from east to west.

I like Frost's closing stanza quite a bit - he implies that he's heading out to howl at the moon (roughly). By characterizing himself as an underdog, Frost is employing a double meaning: he is literally "under" the dog in the skies, but he also fancies himself an underdog in the common sense of the word: 1) a loser or predicted loser in a struggle or contest; 2) a victim of injustice or persecution. In such a case, the word "bark" also takes on a second meaning - it can mean "to make the characteristic short loud cry of a dog" or "to speak in a curt loud and usually angry tone" (or even "to advertise by persistent outcry").

I leave it to you to decide whether Frost intended to be playfully making noise out of doors, or whether he meant to invoke the darker meaning (my preferred reading): that he was protesting something in the figurative, rather than in the literal, dark - a voice in the wilderness, if you will, rather than someone resembling the grandpa from Moonstruck.

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Linda said...

Thanks for reminding me about Robert Frost's birthday. I haven't read this poem before so I'm glad you shared it!

Kelly Fineman said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it!

reginald36 said...