Introduction and Theme

The poem is philosopising an important reality of life and puts forward his statement which is scientifically true that all forces of life are centrifugal (i.e. tending away from centralisation, as of authority). The force of life is pressurised to the borders or poetically speaking, to the margins of life. Because our energies and qualities lie in the center of life, we cannot utilize then in the best possible manner. Our dreams, visions, desires do lie in the center, but it is a reality of life that their achievements are centrifugal. The reality of life is developing or progressing from the center outwards.

We have our dreams, desires, myths and visions of a standard life, but we cannot materialize our dreams because the force of life is centrifugal and all our dreams lie in the center of our mind.

The basic idea of the poem is that things concentrate at the edges … all other details seem to present of a cinematic presentation of the idea. The poet gives an example of pond, then of sleep and finally concludes that our sleep takes us away from the world of reality to the world of imagination which is replete with all sorts of desires, but we cannot perform during sleep to get our desires. The end of our journey is death and our energies are expanding towards this goal.

A Critique of Marginalia


Things concentrate at the edges; the pond-surface

Is bourne to fish and man

Things concentrate at the edges is the basic message of the poem. The poet brings round this point to his readers in a graphic manner using the example of water pond and sleep both of which are examples common enough for an average mind to understand. But the philosophical point, which the poet makes, is unique and seldom touched upon by the poets. This is a typical quality of modern poets especially Americans who tend always tend to choose striking topics for their poems. Marginalia tends to present the reality that things exert their pressures to the edges and this is amply proven by the men and fish along with other botanical life in the water which are driven by the centrifugal force to the edges rather than staying in the center (centripetal). Sleep also takes us from the conscious world to the unconscious world, which is an example of centrifugal force in life.

The poem has imaginative quality along with realistic touches. There seems to be a clash between imagination and reality. It is a fact that center is important for the generation of products and results, but all its energies are pressured to the edges, so for the existence of life, life must pace along with time and naturally progress ahead for better and standard life.

The progress and advancement of life lie in the coping with the rim of whirlpool rather than enjoying its center.

Development of Thought

An Attack on the traditional concept of Nucleus

Wilbur is not simply a poet, but a philosopher who attacks the traditional concept of central significance of nucleus. Traditionally people have upheld the importance of center and nucleus. That is why Theodore Roethke hails Wilbur in the followings words, “Not a graceful mind – that’s a mistake – but a mind of grace, an altogether different and higher thing.”

Scientifics have discovered that the death of nucleus is the death of whole cell. They have believed in the centripetal forces rather than the centrifugal ones, but Wilbur challenges and says:

Things concentrate at the edges;

What he means is that complexity, richness, beauty and ugliness of the world exists not at its center but at its boundaries. It is the boundaries, which have held the center tight. Though the center is an emissary of light, knowledge and development yet our riches are centrifugal in the words of Wilbur. So the most important area for progress is not the center but the edges, which are ever expanding, evolutionary and revolutionary.

The Limits of Man and Animal

He uses a number of images to drive home his idea. He uses zoological and botanical imagery very common in modern American poetry introduced by the advancement of science. Wilbur says,

The pond-surface,Is bourne to fish and man

He uses the image of pond, its surface and edges. Edges serve as the ultimate bounderies separating the world of the fish from that of human beings – the world of land differed from the waterly world. It is not the centeral water of the pond which defines the limits of man and the fish. Their limites are symbolised by the borders – the edge of the pond.

Not only this zoological, but also the botanical life such as slime, moss, impure vegetation or décor, music or pattered light, in other words all the beauties and ugliness all concentrate at the edges as ascertained by Wilbur in the following lines:

In textile scum and damask light, on which

The lily-pads are set; and there are also

Inlaid ruddy twigs, becalmed pine-leaves,

Air-baubles, and the chain mail of froth

Dreams Vs. Reality

The poem nicely presents the theme of dream and reality, knowledge and ignorance, sleep and every day life, fact and imagination and the opposite forces:

Descending into sleep (as when the night-lift

Falls past a brilliant floor), we glimpse a sublime

Décor and hear, perhaps, a complete music,

But this evades us, as in the night meadows

The crickets’ million roundsong dies away

The poet supports a state of mind which is concious and unconcious at the same time, half-way between sleep and wakness, imagination and reality. Again these points assertain that the deeper we go in sleep, or higher we ascent to imagination we will find the reality at the edges not in the center. Music heard becomes appealing, the more we head towards the farthest bounderies of the song and hear that a chorus is singing for us.

Complexity and High End of Life 

As Marginalia is a thought-provoking poem, the poet marginalizes and philosophizes life. According to the poet, life is an ocean, which ends in a whirlpool. All our qualities are centrifugal and cannot stay in the center; they must have an outlet towards the borders for sustenance.

Our riches are centrifugal; men compose,Daily, unwittingly, their final dreams,

And those are our own voices whose remote,Consummate chorus rides on the whirlpool’s rim,,Past which we flog our sails, toward which wedrift,

Plying our trades, in hopes of a good drowning.

What ever do, what ever our professional skills, interests and hobbies are, life finally moves towards the whirlpool of death. Each human being in life has a tiny boat, which is set on sail on the ocean of life. E very one is using his particular skills plies his boat. He weaves a web of his future dreams and desires. These visions and dreams are out human experiences. The goals and targets are set for us and they call us for a deceptive center. We drown while moving towards the unknown region of death.

Style, Imagery and Technique

Wilbur’s style is modern and perfect. The sentences are short, the poem runs like an essay giving an introduction, presenting and developing an argument and concluding the presented material with a final message. Wilbur has touched upon a scientific topic and reinforced it with natural imagery. The scenic imagery of water pond and the things grown upon them has been fully exploited not only for the aesthetic pleasure for a romantic mind, but also supporting the main argument presented. The image of sleep is superbly presented to give the poem a dream-like quality and further enhance the point discussed earlier. Doubtlessly, Wilbur technically proves himself a perfect craftsman in this poem. Technically, the poem is a masterpiece of English literature.

Marginalia is a state of mind catalyzed the social changes and hybrid cultures. Though we are awake and asleep which are the two contrary states of human mind, but the best ends can be achieves in hypnotic states. Life is going on and its force which is centrifugal will continue drawing things at its edges, but until and unless exploited properly, our riches will only remain dreams and visions and we cannot materialize them. In society, every thing is in motion and the best resources lie at the edges. The glory of man is to lift himself up to the standard and achievethat Sublime and Décor that Wilbur speaks of. Though the margins are at the highest point, yet diligent and constant state of mind can achieve that unattainable target.

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