The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Richard Wilbur’s “The Mind-Reader,” a dramatic monologue of 151 lines, unveils the inner world of a fortune-teller. Although Wilbur leaves gender unspecified, out of convention the reader may regard the aged figure as a woman. The reader cannot rely on convention, however, when it comes to judging her psychic talents. While not able to see the future, she can see past appearances. She can read minds and has a special talent for finding lost items by probing people’s memories. Nothing put into a mind is ever truly lost: “What can be wiped from memory?” she asks, adding that “Nothing can be forgotten, as I am not/ Permitted to forget.”

Unnamed in the poem, the mind-reader begins her monologue by ruminating on loss. Things that no one sees disappear are “truly lost,” she says. She imagines a hat that slips over a cliff. “The sun-hat falls,/ With what free flirts and stoops you can imagine,/ Down through that reeling vista or another,/ Unseen by any, even by you or me.” She likewise imagines a “pipe-wrench, catapulted/ From the jounced back of a pick-up truck,” and a book sliding from beneath the chair of a reader on the deck of a ship, into the “printless sea.”

The mind-reader then tells of her childhood, when her talent was used for finding missing objects. She likens exploring a mind to exploring a landscape: “you would come/ At once upon dilapidated cairns,/ Abraded moss, and half-healed blazes leading/ To...

(The entire section is 514 words.)