Street Dog Poem by Amrita Pritam Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English for Students


Street Dog is a poem written by the famous Indian poet Amrita Pritam. This poem was written in the 1970s, originally in Punjabi. It was translated into English by people like Vijay Dharwadker, and R. Parthasarathy. The version translated by R.Parathasarathy appeared in the issue Poetry in the year 2007. The poem is written from the perspective of an ex-lover who talks about their separation from their partner and how this rift is reflected in the house that they shared together. 

About the Author 

Born on 31st August 1919, in Gujranwala, Punjab Province, British India (now Punjab, Pakistan), Amrita Pritam was a novelist, essayist and poet who wrote in both Punjabi and Hindi. Amrita Pritam’s writing spans a wide range of themes, encompassing love, loss, partition, and the human condition. She rose to fame with her poignant and socially relevant poetry, earning her recognition as the leading female poet in the Punjabi language One of her most famous works is the poem “Ajj Aakhaan Waris Shah Nu” (Today I Invoke Waris Shah), in which she addresses the 18th-century Punjabi Sufi poet Waris Shah, lamenting the tragedy of the Partition and its devastating consequences. This poem stands as a powerful and emotive response to the human suffering caused by the communal violence during that tumultuous period. Apart from poetry, Amrita Pritam wrote novels, essays, and short stories. Her novel “Pinjar” is particularly notable for its exploration of the experiences of women during the Partition. Throughout her career, Pritam received numerous awards and honours, including the Sahitya Akademi Award, the Jnanpith Award, and the Padma Vibhushan, one of the highest civilian honours in India.


The poem consists of 30 lines which are divided into 7 stanzas of varying lengths. Written from the first-person point of view, the poem is addressed to the speaker’s ex-lover. The lines are enjambment which lends the poem a flowing quality. 

Lines 1- 10

It's really something from the past—

when you and I split up

without any regrets—

just one thing that I don't quite understand . . .      

When we were saying our farewells

and our house was up for sale

the empty pots and pans strewn across the courtyard—

         perhaps they were gazing into our eyes

and others that were upside down—

         perhaps they were hiding their faces from us.


The speaker starts by reflecting on the past and talking about their past relationship. They directly address their ex-lover and add that they both split up without any regrets. However, there is one thing that the speaker does not understand. The speaker goes on to describe the events that took place when they separated from their ex. They both said their farewells to each other and intended to sell the house where they had lived together and shared a life. The speaker describes the empty pots and pans that were strewn across the courtyard and claims that they used to “gaze” into the eyes of the speaker and their ex-lover. There were other utensils that were upside down and according to the speaker, they were perhaps hiding their faces from the house owners. 


In the starting itself, we are told that the speaker and their ex-partner came to a mutual decision to separate, hence, here, the speaker is not pining for their ex-lover. Additionally, the domestic space of a house that the speaker shared with their ex-partner, mirrored the relationship that they lived and were now abandoning. It is because of this reason that the speaker imagines the utensils being ashamed of the lovers and being critical of their decision to separate. The poet has lent a life to abstract objects and it is as if all the things that were present in the house witnessed the relationship of the ex-lovers bloom and wither. And it is their reaction to the separation that strengthens the theme of the poem. 

Lines 11-20

A faded vine over the door,

perhaps it was confiding something to us

         —or grumbling to the faucet.

Things such as these

never cross my mind;

just one thing comes to mind again and again—

how a street dog—

catching the scent

wandered into a bare room

and the door slammed shut behind him.


The speaker goes on to mention a “faded” vine which was growing over a door and remarks that perhaps the vine wanted to confide something to the ex-lovers or maybe it was just grumbling to the faucet. Ironically, here the speaker comments how the things that they have mentioned never come to their mind when they reflect on break up. Rather there is one event that they are reminded of, again and again. A street dog got trapped in the house as just when the ex-partners locked it up and abandoned it. 


An important aspect to notice in the poem is how the poet personified the objects so that they could witness the downfall of the relationship that their owners shared. In this section also, the vine is personified as someone who can communicate its “grumbling” to the faucet or can confide in the speaker. Ironically, all these objects that the speaker mentions are not the things that come into her mind when they think back on the relationship. Despite this, it is these inanimate things that they mention first as they talk about the relationship. 

Lines 21- 30

After three days—

when the house changed hands

we swapped keys for hard cash

delivered every one of the locks to the new owner

showed him one room after the other—

we found that dog's carcass in the middle of a room . . .      

Not once had I heard him bark

         —I had smelled only his foul odor

and even now, all of a sudden, I smell that odor—

it gets to me from so many things . . .


The speaker further goes on to describe what happened to the dog that got trapped in the house. After three days, when the owners of the house changed and the speaker, along with their ex-partner exchanged keys for cash, they did all the things that usual ex-owners would do-like showing the new owners around etc. As they were showing the new owners the rooms, they found the carcass or the dead body of the trapped dog in the middle of a room. The speaker shares that they had not heard the dog bark even once and that they were only there to smell the foul odour that emanated from the carcass. The speaker lastly admits that even now and then, rather than remembering and recalling other aspects of their past relationship, it is the smell of the dead dog that they think about the most. 


Here also, the house is personified in such a way so that it seems that rather than the owners, it is the house that changed its ownership. Additionally, there is a deep symbolic significance related to the dog. The death of the dog can be interpreted as the death of the relationship itself. It is as if there was some small part of the relationship that still survived in the house even after the lovers had separated. It is only when the ownership of the house changes that that small glimmer of hope dies away, which is signified through the carcass of the dog. Thus, rather than pining or regretting about their relationship, the speaker feels guilty about the dog that died there.