Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

It is no coincidence that “A Magus” first appeared in a poetry collection entitled This Strangest Everything (1966). A remarkable hodgepodge that contains abundant evidence of the social, political, and ecological crises of the Cold War years in which it was written, the poem encompasses a wide variety of themes. By employing unnatural images and irrational shifts of subject, however, the poet draws attention to the fact that its meaning cannot easily be reduced to some simple moral, religious, or sociopolitical statement.

By confronting readers with vivid devices, provocative questions, and a mystifyingly abrupt and not very satisfying ending, the poet forces them to acknowledge the fact that they are indeed reading a poem and not a history book or a newspaper. Poetry, acutely aware of its forms and devices, is the form that traditionally conveys in a highly memorable manner the bewildering complexity of the world.

At the center of this world is the mystery of life, “this strangest everything,” which poets since time immemorial have been praising and celebrating in their poems. Ciardi’s poetry is no exception, a fact emphasized both by this particular poem and by the poet’s own advice to his readers: “To read a poem, come prepared for delight.”

Ciardi provokes delight in a variety of ways throughout “A Magus,” as its own unique surprises, mystifications, and evocations attest. Reveling in the myriad...

(The entire section is 469 words.)