A Baroque Wall-Fountain in the Villa Sciarra Analysis

Richard Wilbur

The Poem

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,...

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Forms and Devices

Each of the fifteen stanzas contains end rhymes that do not continue into the next stanza. As none of these stanzas use interlocking rhymes, the poet makes use of other devices rhetorically to draw the meaning through the lines. Most of the stanzas, for example, use enjambment, pulling images through several lines or stanzas before concluding. Only one stanza comes to a full stop, having asked the second question. Such a varied rhyme allows the reader to avoid premature conclusions about where the poet is proceeding with his thought. The discontinuous rhyme seems speculative in nature, as if even the structure of the poem itself is ripe for probing, as if the poet remains open to the possibilities of new discovery.

Although the poem does use end rhyme to strengthen the melody, the musicality of the lines does not completely depend upon that structure. Within each stanza, the repetition of vowel or consonant sounds echoes the rhyme, formulating the sense of the poem even deeper within the structure. For example, in the first stanza, whose second and third lines end with “feet” and “eat,” the fourth line begins with “Sweet.” In the second stanza, the short “i” sound in “tipped” in the second line repeats in “fills” and “spills,” which end the second and third lines. The eighth stanza concludes each line with “e” sounds, as if stylistically acknowledging the turn that occurred in the previous stanza. Wilbur’s use of a highly...

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(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Bixler, Frances. Richard Wilbur: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1991.

Edgecombe, Rodney Stenning. A Reader’s Guide to the Poetry of Richard Wilbur. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1995.

Hougen, John B. Ecstasy Within Discipline: The Poetry of Richard Wilbur. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1994.

Michelson, Bruce. Wilbur’s Poetry: Music in a Scattering Time. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1991.

Reibetang, John. “What Love Sees: Poetry and Vision in Richard Wilbur.” Modern Poetry Studies 11 (1982): 60-85.

Salinger, Wendy, ed. Richard Wilbur’s Creation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1983.

Stitt, Peter. The World’s Hieroglyphic Beauty: Five American Poets. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985.