(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The title “In the Field” is an ambiguous reference to the two halves of the poem. The poem chronicles two walks in the same field, the first at night (the speaker looks at the stars), and the second one on a sunny day (the speaker looks at the flowers of the field). The poem has both a speaker and someone spoken to, who is probably a wife or lover, and the poem is a looking back at the events delineated there.

The simple stanza form—four lines each of trimeter, pentameter, tetrameter, and trimeter, rhyming abab—gives the poem a classical feel with a personal twist. It may be said to have as its subject the fear of Blaise Pascal, the seventeenth century French philosopher and mathematician, of the immensity of the universe. It relates this topic not as an abstract concept but as one resulting from a personal discovery of the poet and his beloved.

The poem opens as the two are walking through the field on a moonless night looking at the stars. The imagery of stanzas 1 and 2, however, suggests that they are wading in the sea, their “throw-back heads aswim.” The meditation begins with discussions of anciently named constellations, pointing out that Andromeda no longer fears the sea even though she moves “through a diamond froth of stars.” Nor does she need Perseus, her godlike savior in the myth, or even Euripides, the famous ancient Greek tragedian, to preserve her memory. The dolphin of Anon, the legendary Greek bard, is...

(The entire section is 581 words.)

In the Field Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bixler, Frances. Richard Wilbur: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1991.

Edgecombe, Rodney Stenning. A Reader’s Guide to the Poetry of Richard Wilbur. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1995.

Hougen, John B. Ecstasy Within Discipline: The Poetry of Richard Wilbur. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1994.

Michelson, Bruce. Wilbur’s Poetry: Music in a Scattering Time. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1991.

Reibetang, John. “What Love Sees: Poetry and Vision in Richard Wilbur.” Modern Poetry Studies 11 (1982): 60-85.

Salinger, Wendy, ed. Richard Wilbur’s Creation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1983.

Stitt, Peter. The World’s Hieroglyphic Beauty: Five American Poets. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985.