Confronting Death in Richard Wilbur's The Pardon Essay

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Confronting Death in Richard Wilbur's The Pardon


Death is the issue at the heart of Richard Wilbur's poem "The Pardon." This is apparent from the opening line, "My dog lay dead five days without a grave." What is not immediately apparent, however, is that this is not simply a poem about a young boy's sadness over the loss of his dog. What Wilbur discusses in this piece is much more profound, cutting through the superficialities of death and confronting fears and doubts that all of us experience at different points in our lives. This is a poem about atonement, about facing the mistakes of the past and confronting them directly. More specifically, it is about reconciling ourselves with death and everything that life's deepest tragedies
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In fact, the poem seems to be told from the point of view of a man who is an adult, perhaps in his late twenties or early thirties, meaning that nearly twenty years have gone by since the time of this event. This shows the reader right away that what the narrator is describing here must be a critical period of his life, otherwise the details of what occurred would not be so fresh in his mind. I feel that this focuses the reader's attention and makes him more aware of what the narrator is talking about.

The first two stanzas also begin to give us clues as to why this experience was so important. In lines one and two, we learn that the boy's dog was dead for five days before it was buried, while lines five through eight describe the boy's trepidation in approaching the dog. This account seems to be a bit ambiguous, in that it is never really made clear whether or not the boy has known that his dog was dead for five whole days or whether he found him for the first time on the fifth day. I would have to argue that it is the former because, in his description, the narrator seems pretty confident in stating how long the dog has been dead. He "lay dead" for five days. He was not missing or lost for five days; the narrator seems very certain in making…