Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Many of Collier’s poems of this early period examine the fear of his own or another’s death, usually envisioned as being buried, taken away, or, as here, falling or falling asleep. Almost always in these poems, however, juxtaposed to the fear of death is the affirmation of living that occurs in a creative act. Such acts can take the form both of an imaginative, verbal act, a “bargain” with death or a “promise”; or of a deliberate, dramatic deed that releases individual energies, as in diving into water, playing a guitar, breaking open a piñata, or, as here, constructing a model plane with wheels that move.

Because he works within the Romantic tradition, Collier’s quest for a solution to “The Problem” also takes him back to his childhood experience of night terror, as he brings to bear the dual perspective of child and adult; childhood offers the raw material of experience, which the mature poet then interprets.

In many Romantic poems the poet emphasizes the loss implicit in growing up and fails to build a solid, reasonable resolution to the problem the poem establishes. Here, though, the poet mourns no loss and finds the resolution to the problem of death embedded within the childhood experience itself. This resolution embraces first the provisional answer of ruling out or postponing death on the grounds that death is just as unimaginable for a child as for an adult. This affirmation then moves on to a scheme that formulates...

(The entire section is 517 words.)