The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Blue Wine” comprises eleven numbered sections. They vary in length from the three-line seventh section to the twenty-nine lines of the eighth section. Each line in the poem is fourteen syllables long. One key to the poem is its dedication: “for Saul Steinberg.” The inspiration for the poem was a visit by John Hollander to Steinberg’s home, where Steinberg (an artist, humorist, and cartoonist) had done a drawing of several bottles of “blue wine.” The whimsical names Steinberg gave the bottles in that initial drawing are given in the poem’s eleventh section. From there, Hollander “thought about blue wine, and what it might mean.” He was also thinking about Steinberg’s art, specifically the 1979 second edition of The Passport, to which Hollander contributed the introduction. The Passport, a melange of real and false immigration documentation, is similar in tenor to Hollander’s Reflections on Espionage; both acknowledge by undertone that authority is always authority, but it is not always correct.

As “Blue Wine” opens, a winemaker “worries over his casks,” but the wine has its own consciousness. Red wine or white wine “broods on its own sleep.” One cannot learn anything about blue wine, however, by looking in the barrels; “a look insidewould show/ Nothing.” The difficulty of understanding blue wine is established.

The next four sections delineate methods of apprehending the wine....

(The entire section is 555 words.)