The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Wodwo” is a poem of twenty-eight lines written in free verse. The poet is writing in the first person but in the persona of the Wodwo, which he describes in his essay “Learning to Think” (Poetry Is, 1970) as “some sort of goblin creaturea sort of half-man half-animal spirit of the forests.”

The Wodwo is not addressing the reader. Rather, the poem shows the stream of consciousness of the Wodwo. It mumbles to itself in the way that very young children or old people sometimes do, talking themselves through the processes of living and thinking. The poem begins with the Wodwo asking, “What am I?” The question is central to the poem and recurs in various modifications throughout. The reader sees the Wodwo rooting through leaves and following a scent to the river. It dives in, and one gains the first sense of how its exceptionally primitive consciousness experiences the world around it.

When it dives into water, it is actually upside down looking at the river bed, but it can only conceive that it is the river bed which is upside down above it. It is unable to connect the way things appear with the vantage point from which it is looking at them. As soon as it is under water, it forgets that fact and asks what it is doing “here in mid-air.” The Wodwo notices a frog and asks itself why it finds the frog interesting “as I inspect its most secret/ interior and make it my own.” This may be a chillingly intimate reference...

(The entire section is 463 words.)