'An Elegy on a Lap-dog' by John Gay

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1Shock's fate I mourn; poor Shock is now no more,
2Ye Muses mourn, ye chamber-maids deplore.
3Unhappy Shock! yet more unhappy fair,
4Doom'd to survive thy joy and only care!
5Thy wretched fingers now no more shall deck,
6And tie the fav'rite ribbon round his neck;
7No more thy hand shall smooth his glossy hair,
8And comb the wavings of his pendent ear.
9Yet cease thy flowing grief, forsaken maid;
10All mortal pleasures in a moment fade:
11Our surest hope is in an hour destroy'd,
12And love, best gift of heav'n, not long enjoy'd.

13Methinks I see her frantic with despair,
14Her streaming eyes, wrung hands, and flowing hair
15Her Mechlen pinners rent the floor bestrow,
16And her torn fan gives real signs of woe.
17Hence Superstition, that tormenting guest,
18That haunts with fancied fears the coward breast;
19No dread events upon his fate attend,
20Stream eyes no more, no more thy tresses rend.
21Tho' certain omens oft forewarn a state,
22And dying lions show the monarch's fate;
23Why should such fears bid Celia's sorrow rise?
24For when a lap-dog falls no lover dies.

25Cease, Celia, cease; restrain thy flowing tears,
26Some warmer passion will dispel thy cares.
27In man you'll find a more substantial bliss,
28More grateful toying, and a sweeter kiss.

29He's dead. Oh lay him gently in the ground!
30And may his tomb be by this verse renown'd.
31Here Shock, the pride of all his kind, is laid;
32Who fawn'd like man, but ne'er like man betray'd.

Editor 1 Interpretation

An Elegy on a Lap-dog by John Gay: A Masterpiece of Emotional Eloquence

Are you a dog lover? Have you ever lost a beloved pet? If so, then you know the heartache and grief that comes with such a loss. In An Elegy on a Lap-dog, John Gay captures the essence of that sorrow in a way that is both poignant and powerful.

In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will explore the various themes, imagery, and literary devices used in this classic poem, and analyze how they contribute to its emotional impact.

Background and Context

John Gay was an English poet and playwright who lived from 1685 to 1732. He is best known for his satirical works, such as The Beggar's Opera, which mocked the corrupt politicians and social elites of his time. However, he also wrote a number of elegies and pastoral poems, which celebrated the beauty of nature and the simple pleasures of life.

An Elegy on a Lap-dog was written in 1730, and was dedicated to Lady Charlotte Edwin, a wealthy and influential lady of the time. The poem tells the story of a lap-dog named Shock, who was beloved by Lady Charlotte and her family. When Shock falls ill and dies, Lady Charlotte is overcome with grief, and the poem serves as a tribute to the dog's memory.

Themes and Imagery

The central theme of the poem is the bond between humans and animals, and the grief that comes with losing a beloved pet. Gay uses vivid imagery and descriptive language to convey the depth of Lady Charlotte's sorrow, as well as the playful and affectionate nature of the lap-dog.

The opening lines of the poem set the scene:

"When lovely woman stoops to folly,
 And finds too late that men betray,
 What charm can soothe her melancholy,
 What art can wash her guilt away?

 The only art her guilt to cover,
 To hide her shame from every eye,
 To give repentance to her lover,
 And wring his bosom, is—to die."

These lines establish the tone of the poem as melancholic and mournful, and suggest that Lady Charlotte's grief is not just about the loss of her pet, but also about some deeper sense of regret or sorrow.

Gay then introduces the character of Shock, describing him as a "sportive little wretch" who was "the favourite of the fair". The imagery used to describe Shock is playful and affectionate, emphasizing his small size and lively personality:

"The squirrel's pet,
 The ladies' joy, the faery's pride,
 (Was e'er so small a thing so full of life?)"

Gay also uses contrasts to heighten the emotional impact of the poem. He juxtaposes the happy, carefree days of Shock's life with the sudden onset of illness and death, creating a sense of shock and disbelief:

"But, oh! what now avails the sprightly race?
 Who now enjoys thy vacant, warm embrace?
 No more thy glassy eyeballs charm the fair,
 No more thy tongue, though tutored, speaks the care."

Finally, Gay reflects on the inevitability of death, and the way in which it can bring people together in shared grief:

"In vain, alas! poor Shock, from thee we hop'd
 To hear what wond'rous cheese the Dutchmen top'd:
 Or, how the toils of state divide the great,
 And why the Red Sea is of such a height:
 Or, why the edge of bacon's browner far,
 And ten times more inviting than the bar."

Literary Devices

Gay uses a number of literary devices to enhance the emotional impact of the poem. One of the most notable is the use of repetition, which creates a sense of rhythm and emphasis:

"But, oh! what now avails the sprightly race?
 Who now enjoys thy vacant, warm embrace?
 No more thy glassy eyeballs charm the fair,
 No more thy tongue, though tutored, speaks the care."

The repeated use of "no more" underscores the finality of Shock's death, and emphasizes the sense of loss felt by Lady Charlotte and her family.

Another important literary device used in the poem is personification, which gives human qualities to non-human objects or animals. Gay personifies Shock as a "sportive little wretch", and describes his "glassy eyeballs" and "tongue, though tutored". This technique serves to humanize the dog, and make his death all the more tragic.

Finally, Gay uses metaphor and simile to create vivid and memorable images:

"The squirrel's pet,
 The ladies' joy, the faery's pride,
 (Was e'er so small a thing so full of life?)"

The comparison of Shock to a "faery's pride" suggests a sense of magic or wonder, while the simile "Was e'er so small a thing so full of life?" conveys the paradoxical nature of the lap-dog's personality.


In conclusion, An Elegy on a Lap-dog is a masterful example of emotional eloquence. Through its vivid imagery, poignant themes, and skillful use of literary devices, John Gay creates a sense of mourning and loss that is both universal and deeply personal.

Whether you are a dog lover or not, the poem speaks to the human experience of grief and loss, and reminds us of the power of love and companionship in our lives.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

An Elegy on a Lap-dog: A Heartfelt Tribute to a Beloved Pet

John Gay's "An Elegy on a Lap-dog" is a touching poem that captures the essence of the bond between a pet and its owner. The poem is a tribute to a lap-dog that has passed away, and it is written in a style that is both mournful and celebratory. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of the poem, and examine how they contribute to its emotional impact.


The central theme of "An Elegy on a Lap-dog" is the love and devotion that exists between a pet and its owner. The poem is a tribute to a lap-dog that has passed away, and it is clear that the speaker had a deep affection for the animal. The poem is filled with images of the dog's playful antics and its loyalty to its owner. The speaker mourns the loss of the dog, but also celebrates the joy that it brought to his life.

Another theme that runs through the poem is the transience of life. The speaker reflects on the fact that all living things must eventually die, and that even the most beloved pets are not exempt from this fate. The poem is a reminder that life is fleeting, and that we should cherish the moments that we have with those we love.


"An Elegy on a Lap-dog" is written in rhyming couplets, with each line consisting of ten syllables. The poem is divided into three stanzas, each of which contains eight lines. The first stanza sets the scene and introduces the dog, while the second and third stanzas explore the speaker's feelings of loss and grief.

The poem is also characterized by its use of repetition. The phrase "Poor Shock" is repeated throughout the poem, emphasizing the speaker's sorrow at the dog's passing. The repetition of this phrase also serves to create a sense of rhythm and continuity, tying the poem together and giving it a sense of unity.


The language of "An Elegy on a Lap-dog" is simple and direct, but it is also filled with emotion. The speaker uses vivid imagery to describe the dog's playful antics, such as when he says that the dog "would frisk about the court, / And from the parlour call the waiting sport." The use of the word "frisk" creates a sense of movement and energy, while the phrase "waiting sport" suggests that the dog was eager to play and have fun.

The speaker also uses language to convey his feelings of grief and loss. He describes the dog as "my faithful friend," emphasizing the bond that existed between them. The use of the word "faithful" suggests that the dog was loyal and devoted to its owner, and that the speaker valued this quality above all else.

Emotional Impact

"An Elegy on a Lap-dog" is a deeply emotional poem that is sure to resonate with anyone who has ever lost a beloved pet. The poem captures the joy and love that exists between a pet and its owner, and it also acknowledges the pain and sorrow that comes with losing that connection.

The poem's structure and language contribute to its emotional impact. The use of repetition creates a sense of rhythm and continuity, while the simple and direct language allows the reader to focus on the emotions that the poem evokes. The poem's themes of love, loss, and transience are universal, and they are sure to strike a chord with anyone who has experienced the pain of losing a loved one.

In conclusion, "An Elegy on a Lap-dog" is a beautiful and heartfelt tribute to a beloved pet. The poem captures the essence of the bond between a pet and its owner, and it reminds us of the joy and love that our furry friends bring into our lives. While the poem is mournful, it is also celebratory, and it encourages us to cherish the memories that we have of those we have lost.

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