The Wall Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

A rich melding of keen observation and metaphysical insight, “The Wall” is above all a poem about the nature and complexity of life. It takes as its point of departure the realities of the physical world: stifling heat, blinding light, barren surroundings. Within this predominantly hostile environment life continues, persevering and sometimes even flourishing, as the poet’s abundant references to wildlife indicate. Recognizing in nature’s lesser creatures life’s blind instinct to persist and endure even in adverse conditions, the poet further conveys this idea by suggesting a parallel between the ants’ futile striving and the person’s dogged following along the forbidding wall.

Even such humble everyday objects can demonstrate life’s basic truths, for Montale believed that all reality is intimately connected with the spiritual realm. Because of this connection, the attentive and open-minded observer may unexpectedly experience a revelation of the larger realities of life, as does the narrator. Even inherently insignificant details such as a barren landscape can reveal not only objective reality, but personal, moral, and spiritual reality as well.

The concept of synesthesia, or simultaneous sensory perception, also evidences this relationship between tangible and intangible. For example, in stanza 3, the remote vision of the Mediterranean is presented first in visual terms (“the distant/ throbbing of sea-scales”) and then in...

(The entire section is 481 words.)