Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

The Dog-Porpoise of Billy Collins’ “Snow Day”

"Sailing Alone . . ." (2001) /
“Sailing Alone . . .” (2001) /

The speaker in Billy Collins’ poem “Snow Day” meditates on the “revolution of snow” (1) as he listens to the radio announcements of school closings, steeping himself in the pleasure of the sounds of the whimsical names of the preschools and the sights of the little girls playing outside in the “grandiose silence of snow” (37). That’s a summary of the poem, the first part of the assignment that I asked my students to write today in lieu of class. The second part of the assignment asked them to look at the poem with a critical eye—not to write a full-blown analysis but to consider at least one of Collins’ choices, a word or an image. For that, I turn to the porpoise.

In the third stanza, Collins’ persona, the “I” of the poem, speaks of his plan to walk his dog, whom he imagines in the snow—as he probably has seen him many times before–frolicking as a porpoise would in the water: “In a while, I will put on some boots / and step out like someone walking on water / and the dog will porpoise through the drifts” (11-13).

By using porpoise as a verb, Collins merges the movement of the dog and the sea mammal. Collins doesn’t liken the dog in the snow to the porpoise. Instead, he fashions a verb that transforms the dog. It morphs into the porpoise, at least for a moment in the readers’ minds.

The dog-porpoise isn’t the prevailing image in the poem. Children and snow cover far more real estate. But the dog-porpoise conveys the spirit of playfulness that abounds in the poem, the same unbridled joy we may feel in our own lives when the adult institutions that govern our days are shut down–as many are now–by snow.

Work Cited

Collins, Billy. “Snow Day.” The Poetry Foundation. The Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

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