The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Richard Wilbur’s poem “A Baroque Wall-Fountain in the Villa Sciarra” consists of a long meditation that springs from a careful examination of two types of fountains in Rome, the first constructed in a large public park, the second, the fountains placed at Saint Peter’s Basilica. The rhyme scheme used throughout fifteen stanzas is abba, with new rhymes occurring in each stanza.

The poem opens with a description of the fountain, greatly elaborating on the high degree of decoration, the qualities that make the fountain’s decor Baroque. The poet advances a mixture of Roman and Christian allusions, blending angels and fauns throughout. This combination produces a line of thought that the poet follows to the conclusion of the poem. The three stone cockles that collect and disburse the water from shell to shell establish the basic structure of the baroque fountain, not only physically but also thematically. A snake has begun to eat the feet of a cherub who acts as guardian of the first shell, from which water spills into the next shell. The water creates a tent of spray for a family of fauns, whose father holds the third shell.

At this point, the poet chooses words that forecast the thematic shift that transpires in the next several stanzas. Water covers the flesh of the fauness “In a saecular ecstasy,” a reference to the sheer physicality of a faun’s worldly concern. Half goat and half human, associated with merrymaking,...

(The entire section is 596 words.)