Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Lost Pilot” is a poem about bereavement and the many improvisations that the heart performs as it seeks a way to hope and to live again after a shattering loss. The poet confronts a literal and figurative void as he mourns the disappearance of a father he never knew. Denied, by the unique and violent circumstances of his pilot-father’s wartime death (1944 was the most terrible year of World War II), the consolations of a conventional funeral ritual, he is also denied the consolations of fond memory, as he has virtually no memories of his father at all. (The poet was less than one year old when his father was lost.) Without memories, the poet is forced to the abstract extreme of grief, an extreme at which his actions become the most vivid imaginable representations of the uncertainties and anxieties of human grief. One wonders in what ways every individual is an orphan. To what extent is every human being diminished by the universal and individual reality of death? The bargaining into which the poet enters with his orbiting father could be seen as emblematic of the ways in which all religions and philosophies seek to question and to cajole the unknown. Because his father cannot step down from the sky, the poet can only continue to state his case to the silence. In this, the poet suggests to the reader that everyone must find means to accept limitations to their individual lives and happiness which, though inevitable, are not necessarily endurable.


(The entire section is 445 words.)