Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Wine Menagerie” shows how creative genius necessarily dissolves into fear when it is contaminated by the effects of alcohol. To put it another way, the poem demonstrates how alcohol fails dismally in powering the creative process. As such, it is a remarkable description of the insanity of chronic drunkenness and how that drunkenness is controlled by an element of trickery and illusions of grandeur. The poet does not simply perceive his world from a weird perspective; he is enveloped by it and condemned to wander among the lowest common denominator of humanity and alcoholic degradation—a grimy saloon of dissipation, fraudulent perceptions, and broken relationships.

Fear is the poet’s insatiable companion, and it is pervasive to the degree that it colors his every perception and misperception. He makes no distinction between delusion and reality; because of his self-involvement and narcissism, he becomes enveloped in a terrifying drama in which he becomes the axis of a self-created world gone mad. He does not achieve an intensified and clarified vision, as he seems to hope; rather, his perceptions are dulled, and his metaphorical juxtaposition of opposites becomes absurd and fatalistic. He elevates the trivial into the extravagant, mistaking pretentious drivel for linguistic elegance. The wine is not so much redemptive as it is reductive, reflecting the poet’s all-consuming self-obsession and his alcoholic imprisonment in the very bottles...

(The entire section is 454 words.)