(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Trolling for Blues” could be styled a work whose metaphor takes over the poem and changes it into something other than what it started out to be. It is written in a five-line stanza of loose pentameters without rhyme. As it begins the poet talks to himself about metaphors: The “dapper terns” and the cloud that “moils in the sky” like an embryo are seen in human terms—humanity is projected upon them. (Only a person could be “dapper.”) Wilbur then analyzes his fish-is-like-man metaphor. Humans make the fish, he points out, a “mirror of our kind.” Immediately he begins to mock the poet in everyone: The fish is human only if, he says, one sets aside the fish’s “unreflectiveness,” his habit of leaping up out of the water, and his strange practice of swimming a hundred miles out to sea to spawn.

One conceives of the fish, the poet says, as blue, “which is the shade/ Of thought.” He becomes at this point a symbol of the intellect “on edge! To lunge and seize with sure incisiveness.” The fish, however, does not cooperate with the poet; suddenly he strikes the lure and dives into the deep, “Yanking imagination back and down/ Past recognition” to the dark places at the bottom of the water. There the fish becomes a symbol of the unconscious, of the place where there is no intellect. He is also a symbol of the evolutionary past—the dark, mindless Devonian age when there were no people. This is where humanity began, coming up...

(The entire section is 403 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bixler, Frances. Richard Wilbur: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1991.

Edgecombe, Rodney Stenning. A Reader’s Guide to the Poetry of Richard Wilbur. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1995.

Hougen, John B. Ecstasy Within Discipline: The Poetry of Richard Wilbur. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1994.

Michelson, Bruce. Wilbur’s Poetry: Music in a Scattering Time. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1991.

Reibetang, John. “What Love Sees: Poetry and Vision in Richard Wilbur.” Modern Poetry Studies 11 (1982): 60-85.

Salinger, Wendy, ed. Richard Wilbur’s Creation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1983.

Stitt, Peter. The World’s Hieroglyphic Beauty: Five American Poets. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985.