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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 428

In his poem "Burning a Book," Stafford challenges the idea that every book ever published is sacred and worth preserving. The poem, to provide a context, is based on his own experience of burning a book he found both alluring and "misleading."

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The first stanza opens with a description of a book actually burning. Stafford uses imagery that helps us visualize the book burning. We can see the pages in the center glowing for "a long time": the cover burns first and easily, and the first few pages "[curl] away." At the same time, the description is minimal—as readers we might be tempted to supply the mental images of the pages turning black and the charred smell of burning paper and glue.

In the second quatrain of the first stanza, Stafford turns from the concrete to the abstract. Truth and lies burn equally well, he says, and fire doesn't discriminate between the two. He uses visual metaphors, comparing "truth," an abstract concept, to something "brittle and faint," likening both it and lies to fire. "Flame" is personified as something that doesn't "care." The stanza ends with the idea that fire doesn't obliterate absolutely everything, noting prosaically that you can "usually find a few charred words in the ashes."

In the second stanza, the speaker turns to opinion. He notes that some books should burn because they are ultimately fake: fundamentally telling a lie. He goes on to ruminate that worse than burned books are the books that nobody ever wrote. Again using metaphors, he compares these to unpopulated towns—cities barren of thought—and a countryside where "wild dogs"...

(The entire section contains 428 words.)

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