Study Guide

Blue Wine

by John Hollander

Blue Wine Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The theme of the poem has been identified by many people as how people react to art. This conceptualization is a rather broad stroke, yet it is arguably incomplete, as it disregards Hollander’s omnipresent consciousness that the line between art and life is a chimera.

Hollander’s development as a poet follows a predictable arc. An ardent admirer of W. H. Auden in his early days, Hollander published his first book, A Crackling of Thorns (1958), under Auden’s aegis as a volume in the Yale Younger Poets series. As Hollander developed, Auden’s influence ebbed, while Hollander’s admiration for Wallace Stevens grew, leading to the explicit “Old W. H., get off my back!” in “Upon Apthrop House” from his collection Spectral Emanations: New and Selected Poems (1978), immediately previous to Blue Wine and Other Poems. Possibly even more telling is the Auden-like poet Myndal from Hollander’s The Quest of the Gole (1966), a bard who values his powers so much that he rewrites that which needed no changes solely because he can. It is not Myndal who succeeds in the quest, but rather his younger brother who saves the kingdom through his heart, good will, and attention to the world around him. The transition from the verse of Auden to the work of Stevens is a movement from art for its own sake to art as part of the world around it.

The contemplative sections of “Blue Wine,” notably sections 2 and 5, emphasize the...

(The entire section is 607 words.)