Michael Collier’s “The Problem” is a colloquial lyric poem examining how as a young boy the poet faced the fear of his father’s death. Writing as an adult, Collier offers mature insight into his childhood awareness of death. He implies that just as natural as the fear itself is his own compulsion, both as boy and adult, to come to terms with it, and he uses the poem for just this purpose.
The poem’s setting is Collier’s room as a boy of ten or so. World War II airplane models hang over his bed. Attached to the ceiling “by thumbtacks and string,” the planes are the last objects he sees before falling asleep at night. He thinks of his father, perhaps because he has received his father’s help in assembling the planes. Such thoughts, though, make him dread sleep because he fears his father will die before he awakens. The young boy succeeds in making “the world fair enough for sleep” only by assuring himself that his father will not die before he himself reaches the age of twenty-one, an impossibly advanced age for him to imagine. Lulled to sleep through this nightly “bargain” with death, with his adult wisdom Collier wryly notes that childish egocentricity projected his needs into a kind of “promise” made to him by his father.
Collier makes clear to the reader that his boyhood strategy of postponement, midway between “gamble” and “promise,” like the fear of death itself, is a matter of the imagination. The...
(The entire section is 463 words.)