Howard Nemerov: Poems Quotes


“Two universes mosey down the street

Connected by love and a leash and nothing else.”

Speaker, in the poem “Walking the Dog”, line 1-2

Howard Nemerov’s poem “Walking the Dog” begins with these two lines. The first noticeable aspect in this quote is the ambiguity of who in this pair is the leader and who is the follower, a question that appears throughout the poem and is never fully answered. The speaker only says that the “two universes” (l.1), which implies an inherent equality, are connected by “love and a leash” (l.2). Who is on which end of the leash is not specified. The word “mosey” (l.1) to describe the manner in which they are walking implies a certain blindness about the direction in which they are heading, which suggests that the speaker is not the one deciding where to go. If this means that the dog is leading or if no one is leading at all is not made clear.

The quote however can also be analyzed in regards to the relationship between speaker and dog. While, as mentioned above, “two universes” (l.1) implies an equality between the two, it also suggests a certain distance, where each lives in their own space. The word “universe” could also mean that they are each either the center of their own universe (stressing the equality and distance between them) or that they are the respective center of each other’s universe (stressing the love between them).

“Whereon we both with dignity walk home

And just to show who's master I write the poem.”

Speaker, in the poem “Walking the Dog”, line 23-24

Howard Nemerov’s poem “Walking the Dog” closes with these two lines. In the last stanza the speaker describes how his dog finally found a spot to defecate after they have walked down the street for a long time. The act of the dog discharging is described as that he “squats, and shits” (l. 22), which is distinctively not dignified. Additionally, one can make the reasonable guess that the speaker is required to pick the dog’s excrement up and carry it in a bag with him, which also lacks dignity. This renders the speaker’s comment that they are walking home “both with dignity” (l.23) slightly ironic.

However, if one takes the last line into account as well, it is possible that, since human standards of dignity do not apply to the dog, the speaker is the only one walking home without his dignity intact. The last line refers back to the question of whether the speaker or his dog is the master of the pair, which was posed in the first lines of the poem. While the speaker seemingly has an answer to it, it is still unclear for the reader.

If one reads both lines together, and thus takes into account that the phrase “with dignity” (l. 23) might be ironic in regards to the speaker, it could imply that the speaker refers to the dog as the master. However, if one sees the last line as a single unit, the fact that it is the speaker performing the act of writing the poem can be seen as the act of declaring his dominance.

“For these

And the like reasons, you have to go to school

And study books and listen to what you are told,

And sometimes try to remember.”

Speaker, in the poem “To David, About His Education”, line 7-10

In this poem the speaker is stressing to a boy named David the importance of an education in school. The speaker explicitly states that they don’t know the exact reasons why David has to acquire this knowledge and this is further exemplified in this quote, when the speaker simply summarizes them into “the like reasons” (l. 8). This shows that the speaker does not care about the reasons either, but simply does as they are told and encourages David to do the same.

The most important part of the quote however is its last line. The entire poem is seemingly about the importance of David acquiring a certain type of knowledge, yet when the speaker says “and sometimes try to remember” (l. 10) it becomes apparent that the actual possession of said knowledge is not the focus, but rather the process of listening to it.

One has to take a closer look at the last lines of the poem where the speaker reveals that the main reason for acquiring the man-made tools to measure the earth is to understand that the world cannot be understood. Taking this into account, it becomes clear that the speaker wants David to gain this insight rather than learn actual knowledge.

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