“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...

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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.

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