Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

As in his other works, in “The Wave,” Collier subtly and cannily uses ordinary objects and events as a point of departure to reveal invisible undercurrents. These hidden forces act both to constrain and to facilitate the possibility of human release. For example, since the ritual of the game becomes more important than the game itself in this poem, crude commercialism appears to stand in the way of the audience’s direct participation in and appreciation of baseball. Second, just as it is manipulated into consumerism so, initially at least, the audience seems to express freedom merely mechanically and physically, through merely raising its arms.

On the other hand, in that he deliberately places himself in the same role as that of the fans, that of an onlooker rather than a seer apart or alienated from the rest of humanity, presumably the poet himself participates along with the others in the wave induced by the exhilarated solders. Perhaps he even allies himself as poet with the power of their leadership, their “urgings” and their “sweat.” Evoking the childhood games of Simon Says and Mother May I?, Collier may also sense that in some ways participating in the wave involves a return to childish games. Does it possibly also imply obedience to the authoritarianism of childhood? Is the possible complexity of Collier’s response to both the soldiers themselves and the wave confirmed in his pinpointing of the ambiguous reaction of the birds,...

(The entire section is 457 words.)