Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Angel” is a poem about the artistic process and the relation of the artist to the world of art, on the one hand, and the wonders of God’s creation, on the other. Lighthearted and wry, it imagines the moment when the work of art is not going well, that moment when the artist is most likely to lose heart and give up, particularly if the overwhelming beauty and power of nature, even in its severest winter garb, is brought to the artist’s attention. The temptation to quit is even more powerful when an example of the admired, finished, discrete art form (in this case, the charming Satie Sarabande No. 1) is thrust upon him, particularly since he cannot even play it. Not only is he being mocked as a producer of art, but also as an interpreter thereof.

The angel is an appropriate commentator on the writer’s ability to make art, given the theological belief that one of the functions of angels is to sing the praises of God, the greatest Creator and, as such, the first and greatest artist. How can the poet sit there, fussing with his literary chaos, when he is surrounded by the power of God’s example of making form out of confusion, and when the angel has pointed out to him the success of Satie, one of God’s creatures who has proved his Godlike talents by producing the composition which the artist obviously much admired? If the poet cannot make art, he should give up trying and be content to adore those who can.

Merrill seems to be...

(The entire section is 577 words.)