Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Like a genuine search, “The Search” is a journey: The poem begins at one place and ends somewhere else. The poet’s thinking moves from painful lament to a search for an explanation and finally to a kind of peace. The first part of the poem is a passive description of the grief of separation and the searcher’s attempt to rejoin his God. Close to the middle of the poem, one can see the writer’s mind shift to ask the source of the separation. The searcher’s pain climaxes midway through the poem when he asks if his suffering might be God’s will. The faithful searcher wins a final comforting reward, when, as expressed in the last third of the poem, he acknowledges God’s greatness. The end of the poem definitely strikes a different tone from the beginning.

“The Search” reinforces a basic concept in Christianity—that when one is suffering and needful, one’s immediate response should be to give thanks to and celebrate God. “The Search” is the story of one pilgrim’s obedience to this directive and his resulting reward. One of the primary strengths of this poem is the sumptuous and celebratory description of God’s greatness. While the language is simple, the images are sophisticated. It has been suggested that even the distance felt from such a magnificent God is in itself a type of relationship with him, and the searcher does find solace in descriptions of God’s greatness.

Coupled with the description of one pilgrim’s personal journey toward his god can be found the image of the state of Christians as a group in relation to their God. It has been suggested that the poem describes the existential situation of humankind in relation to God—that of an unnatural and evil loneliness and grief after the exile from the Garden of Eden. The distance spoken of in the poem represents the difference between true man and woman as inhabitants of the Garden versus their faulty counterparts after the fall from grace. Thus when the poet begs of God, “Turn, and restore me,” he seeks restoration to a place where the poet and humankind once were, in God’s presence.