Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“Miniver Cheevy” is about a small-town drunkard living in the mundane present and wasting his life away in futile fantasies about a medieval and classical antiquity. It is a verse portrait of an irresponsible and idle dreamer who expends his energy in reverie and who will never face up to the truth of himself as a self-created failure.
The poem is built on ironic contrasts between the unheroic Miniver as he is, and his dreams of adventure, romance, and art associated with heroic figures of the legendary Trojan War in ancient Greece, King Arthur’s knights of the Round Table in the Middle Ages, and the dazzling brilliance and corruption of the Medici in the Renaissance. What a great figure he might have been, Miniver reasons, had he been born at the right time. That he has not succeeded is not his fault; he uses the classic excuse that the rest of the world is wrong.
Miniver escapes from the world of reality into a world of dreams induced by alcohol. Each stanza’s final short line with its feminine ending provides an appropriately tipsy rhythm. The name Miniver, with its suggestion of the Middle Ages, patchwork royalty, and minuteness, coupled with the diminutive-sounding Cheevy, sums up his failure. The tone of the poem is one of humor, pathos, and sympathetic understanding, but there is a mocking note also, an intimation that Miniver’s unfortunate situation is not the result of any cosmic flaw in a nonexistent high tragedy; Miniver is a clown prince of his own tragicomedy of life.