The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Eel” is a lyric in free verse. It is contained in one stanza of thirty lines. The title directs the reader to the eel, whose journey is related by the poem, and raises the question of the significance of the eel, prompting the reader to ask what the poet means by centering attention upon it.

The first sixteen lines describe the journey of the eel. The eel is described leaving the cold reaches of the Baltic Sea and plunging south into Europe, eventually to reach “these shores of ours”—the Italy in which the poet is writing. The poem mentions the marshes, wetlands, and rivers of Italy even before the beginning of the eel’s journey is told, thus already focusing attention on the creature’s destination. As the eel goes upstream, her journey becomes less smooth, more of a struggle. The eel is no longer moving in elements that are natural and friendly to her. Instead, she is involved in a frenzied battle with powerful and awesome forces of nature. The eel is not a slimy, inert natural object. Her movement against nature arouses the reader’s human sympathies.

The Alps are natural barriers to any creature, or for that matter any man-made artifact such as a boat, seeking to journey by river from the north to the south of Europe. Yet the eel, by the sheer force of her lowly, earthy will, bursts her way through “stone interstices of slime” until she miraculously comes out on the other side. Her entry into the Italian landscape is...

(The entire section is 472 words.)