Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Groundhog” is a poem about death. More specifically, its theme may be put best as a question: What does the knowledge of death do to a human being, the only creature blessed and cursed with consciousness? This theme is as ancient as poetry and as persistent as human thought.

As noted above, Eberhart explores and traces the intricate relationship of mortality and awareness, but he does not resolve it. The completed processes of the poem form a neat synopsis—summers whirl, hearts wither, men think—but such a synopsis is only an invitation to further speculation. Such speculation is a recurrent theme in Eberhart’s work. In his first book, the long autobiographical poem A Bravery of Earth (1930), the poet explicitly describes three levels of “awareness,” linking them with “mortality,” “mentality,” and “coming to understand.” Much of his later work, especially “The Groundhog,” represents a deepening and enriching of this powerful theme.

Two great principles animate “The Groundhog”: the grand mortal energy of nature, and the smaller but equally recurrent energy of human thought. The first three sections of the poem present the reader with two sets of facts: the natural process of decay, and the human task of trying to make sense of mortality from within the larger cycle of death and disintegration.

The reader who notices the repetition of “in” during the poem’s last six lines, one...

(The entire section is 466 words.)