The poem “Our Bog is Dood” by Stevie Smith

In the poem “Our Bog is Dood” by Stevie Smith, the narrator confronts a group of   small children.  The narrator could be either male or female, although she sounds female.  She uses many feminine words repeatedly, like “darling” in line 6 and “sweet” in line 25.  The narrator starts in a happy, whimsical sort of manner but then soon changes.

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The setting is not told directly.  All the information gained to decide where the poem takes place is given through dialogue.  The phrase “encroaching sea” in line 28 does not give a good idea of exactly where the poem takes place.  “By the encroaching sea” presents an image of the narrator walking along a beach that is getting smaller as the tide moves in.  The poem could be taking place anywhere close to sea or in a religious building or area since many religious allusions are given.  Besides the mystery of where, the author never gives any clue as to when the poem is set.  It could be medieval times or modern times.  No matter the setting, the title “Our Bog is Dood” is a mystery of its own.  Those two words make the reader read the poem over and over again.

The characters in this poem are the speaker and several listeners.  This speaker is inside the poem.  In stanzas one and two, the narrator uses the words “child” and “infant eye,” giving the impression that she is talking to children. In line 8, the children are heard to reply with “That is enough.”

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This poem has five stanzas with six lines each, and it has a definite rhyme scheme.  In each stanza, the first, third, and fifth lines are longer than the second, fourth, or sixth.  The lengths of lines and words are the same throughout.  The rhyme scheme is abcbab in the first two stanzas and then changes to abcbdb in the last three.

Smith does an excellent job in confusing and surprising the reader with his word choices, poetic tricks, and speed of the poem.  Throughout the poem there is much repetition, rhyming, and alliteration. 

In the first stanza the narrator, who is the protagonist, addresses the children.  She “asked them to explain” their chant, “Our Bog is dood.”  The children “grew a little wild,” and then, using repetition, the narrator asks them one more time.  The author starts the third stanza again with repetition.  The narrator again addresses the children as “darling little ones” and again asks, “What’s dood, suppose Bog is?”  The author uses this repetition to build up the mystery surrounding the meaning of the title and these two weird words.  Smith uses more repetition in stanza 3, lines 15 and 16, when the children reply, “Just what we think, the answer came,/Just what we think it is.”  The repetition is seen immediately in the first three lines of the last stanza.

                        Oh sweet it was to leave them then.

                        And sweeter not to see,

                        And sweetest of all to walk alone.

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By repeating “sweet” three times and using euphony in these lines, the author gives the reader a sense of relief and joy that the narrator has after she leaves the children.  The reader is now confused.  The narrator seemed happy to be with the children, but now she is glad to have left them.  The last three lines of the poem give the reader insight with an image and one last repetition. “The sea that soon should drown them all,/That never yet drowned me.”  By using the word “drown” twice, the author is emphasizing the sea’s power and effect on every human being.  Lines 2, 4, and 6 in all the stanzas end in rhyming.  In the first stanza, “mild,” “wild,” and “child” are used.  In stanza five, “me,” “misery,” and “agree” are used.  All through the poem, Smith uses alliteration.  “Th” sounds can be found throughout.  In all five stanzas words like “they,” “them,” and “think” are used.  The author is using the words “Bog” and “dood” to make the reader question and guess what this poem is about, if it is not just gibberish.  The narrator questions the children about their “Bog” and “dood” in stanzas one and three.  They explain this to her briefly, but by the fourth stanza, the children suddenly change their minds.

Although the rhyming and words are constant all through the poem, the tone is not.  The tone of the poem starts with being parental, calm, and comforting and goes to a somewhat annoyed and angry tone in stanza four.  The tone in the last stanza is one of relief and confidence.  In the first three stanzas the children all can agree, but suddenly in stanza four, the children “glared upon each other.”  Then, in this speedy and hasty stanza, the author uses the opposition “In pride and misery.”  While reading, the reader does not have much time to think about these two words but gets a sense of confusion and dismay.

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 “Pride” and “misery” are emotions not usually associated with one another, but here the author is trying, besides adding confusion, to prepare the reader for another opposition.  Suddenly, in stanza five, the children “cannot agree” on “what was dood” and what their “Bog is.

Throughout the poem, many religious phrases and words appear. “Crucified” is used in line 12, and the children “bowed their heads” in line 17.  “Crucified” has strong ties to the Christian religion and is what happened to the Son of God.  “Bowed their heads” is immediately seen by just about any reader as an action done during prayer.  In line 18 “wholly” is also used but is not so apparent.  “We are wholly his” has strong meaning to the religion of Christianity.  Christians believe all belong to God as His creation, and most refer to him as a male.  In addition, the words “Bog” and “dood” can be easily replaced with “God” and “good” and make more sense.  Christians also believe God is here for the human race, and He belongs to humans just as much as they belong to Him.  Another religious image is seen in the second stanza, line 10, where the poem reads, “Stood up the flame of pride,” which gives a sense of worship in a church filled with candles.

Throughout the poem, the author uses words to reflect on a person’s faith and commitment to God.  Using “the encroaching sea,” the author may be symbolizing the devil.  The implication is that without faith in God, the human race will “drown.”  The last stanza capitalizes the poem’s religious hints and is an allusion to the biblical story of the great flood in which God tells Noah to gather one pair of all the animals he can find and load them on a boat.  The rain comes and drowns the earth for forty days, cleansing

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the earth of the evil and non-believers.  In this poem, the children could symbolize the human race before the flood.  They are children of sin who live with “pride” but in “misery.”  They think they know who their God is, but cannot agree.  They are hypocrites who claim they know God and condemn others for their lack of belief.  Really, they are the ones who do not believe and are seduced by the devil  (sea).  The narrator could be Noah himself, or since the narrator sounds female, his wife.  They are the true believers and have listened to God’s word.

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