Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Stern is a free-verse poet; he does not use conventional forms, and his use of traditional figures of speech is sparse. In this poem he creates a stanza break, not so much to contrast the idea of the paper with the squirrel but instead to use the second stanza to define and amplify exactly what about the squirrel resembles the mind.

The conversational tone with which Stern begins is typical of his work; he sounds as if he is continuing a conversation he has already begun with the reader. Throughout most of the poem his diction is colloquial, the ordinary language of conversation among educated people, thus supporting the conversational tone. Even the first figure of speech, the simile of mind and paper, is introduced quite matter-of-factly. Stern recalls what Galileo said about mind being like “a piece of paper blown around by the wind,” asserts that he “loved the sight of it,” and imagines the places the paper might blow—a tree, “the backseat of a car.” At last, with an air of exaggeration, he claims that for years the paper would “leap” through his cities.

The next simile is Stern’s own, the comparison of the mind to a squirrel. Stern locates the squirrel precisely; it is on Route 80 and caught “between the wheels of a giant truck.” Stern compares the squirrel’s indecisive darting to “a thin leaf,/ or a frightened string,” but in fact the scene is one that almost everyone has seen—a squirrel wavering in his...

(The entire section is 476 words.)