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Poetry Practice

Focus = Figurative Language 2 Name:

Read Richard Wilbur’s “The Writer” carefully. What is the


“The Writer” by Richard Wilbur poem about? How does Wilbur convey its subject? Use the
textbook questions at the bottom of this handout to help
In her room at the prow of the house you consider and analyze the poem.
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden, Use your “Questions for Understanding and Evaluating
My daughter is writing a story. Poetry” handout.
Make notes on and beside the poem as you read and
I pause in the stairwell, hearing analyze it.
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys 5 Be prepared to discuss your observations and their
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale. significance to the poem as a whole.

Young as she is, the stuff


Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses, 10


As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking,


And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent. 15

I remember the dazed starling


Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;


And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door, 20
We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature


Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,

And wait then, humped and bloody, 25


For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back,


Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world. 30

It is always a matter, my darling,


Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

Perrine Questions:
1. What “easy figure” (11) of speech is presented by such language as “prow” (1), “chain hauled over a gunwale” (6), “cargo” (8), “passage”
(9)? What is being compared to what? Why would “the writer” – either the daughter or the speaker – be justified in rejecting that figure?
2. The daughter seems to be rejecting both the figure of speech and the thought that it represents (11). Why might the thought be as
unacceptable as the figure that expressed it?
3. Lines 16 through 30 develop the image of the trapped starling. Why should it be interpreted as a symbol? How is its meaning more
complex than that of the figure developed in lines 1-15?
4. The poem symmetrically divides into two 15-line units, each developing a different figure of speech. What is the function of the
additional three lines with which the poem ends?

Perrine’s Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense, 10th edition, compiled by A. Carter, 2016