The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Fear and Trembling” is a poem of twenty-one lines expressing a poet’s questions about his ability to commune with nature in old age when he seeks to understand nature’s lessons and feels a burst of energy for poetic creation.

As its title implies, “Fear and Trembling” is a dark meditation about the limits of the ability of the human mind and the poetic imagination to bridge the gap between the subjective and objective realms of reality and to apprehend intimations of immortality in nature. The title may also express the awe-filled emotions inspired by the possibility of communing with nature. Emphasizing the poem’s dark side are the many questions posed by the speaker; questions far outnumber declarative statements in the poem.

The first stanza presents the setting, which the rest of the poem explores for meaning. There are no questions here, only a simple description of a completely quiet forest in high summer during sunset. Despite the simple narration, however, phrases such as “that is” (suggesting intensity of being) and “final fulfillment” (suggesting totality of being) hint at a transcendent experience or vision springing from this preternaturally silent scene. The aged speaker will meditate on the meaning of the natural scene in the remaining lines of the poem.

The second stanza inaugurates a series of disturbing questions that cast doubt on the power of words (as in the case of poetry) to create a...

(The entire section is 492 words.)