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TWENTY-ONE LOVE POEMS: 10, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography


In the tenth entry of Adrienne Cecile Rich's "Twenty-One Love Poems," the lens through which the complexities of love and relationships are viewed is that of a dog-a seemingly simple creature, yet one whose presence within the poem's emotional landscape amplifies the intricate web of human feelings. Rich's poem does not merely observe the dog's dozing state; it prompts a philosophical pondering on the interconnectedness of human and animal experience, on the basics of companionship, and the necessity of tenderness in any relationship.

The opening lines, "Your dog, tranquil and innocent, dozes through / our cries, our murmured dawn conspiracies / our telephone calls," raise questions about the nature of understanding. The dog appears indifferent or perhaps just uncomprehending of the human complexities around her. But then, "She knows-what can she know?" is a question fraught with existential undertones. The mere act of questioning infers that there's something beyond simple instincts in her tranquil dozing-a mysterious knowledge, so to speak, that can be accessed only through a simpler, more primal lens than human intelligence.

Rich plays with our anthropocentric tendencies in the lines "If in my human arrogance I claim to read / her eyes, I find there only my own animal thoughts." The dog becomes a mirror reflecting the essential animal desires and fears the speaker carries within: "that creatures must find each other for bodily comfort, / that voices of the psyche drive through the flesh / further than the dense brain could have foretold." In reflecting these basic, almost elemental truths back to the speaker, the dog offers a distillation of the human condition to its rawest elements. This is not a reduction but rather an unearthing of universals, a cutting through the complexity to expose the roots of our most primal needs and drives.

The notion of a journey shared between "creature-travelers" introduces an idea of cosmic loneliness, as the "planetary nights are growing cold." It's a poignant image, suggesting that as we journey through life, the existential isolation we feel can only be alleviated by touch, by connection-by finding our fellow "creature-travelers." There's a universal yearning in these lines, a yearning to share life's inherent struggles and brief moments of warmth with another soul, be it human or animal.

The poem concludes on a profound note: "that without tenderness, we are in hell." Here, tenderness is elevated to the status of a saving grace, a final sanctuary. It encapsulates all the primal needs, the intellectual and emotional complexities, and the existential worries addressed in the poem, offering a simple yet challenging solution: to be tender is to be saved. Thus, the poem becomes an examination of the dualities we live with-complexity and simplicity, companionship and loneliness, human and animal-and posits that at the intersection of these dualities, tenderness remains the essential virtue, the ultimate balm against the harsh conditions of existence.


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