The most effective way for a poem to speak to the reader is by using a way of indirectly representing an image or an event. When the poet uses a filter, or a metaphor, he makes a figurative instead of a literal reference. Taking a look at Billy Collins’ poem, “Embrace” it is easy to think that the whole message from beginning to end is that this person was feeling lonely enough to hold himself. He is a little over the edge, and since there is no one around to embrace him, he has resorted to embracing himself. That is what the poem is about, a temporary condition of emptiness and one man’s Band-Aid. But it also suggests a bigger point about human nature and an individual’s perspective about life. It is normal to be uncertain about your particular condition, but a pattern of acting out in unconventional ways can sometimes drive a person crazy.
The image of a man hugging himself tightly is not hard to picture. It is easy to imagine and that is why it serves as a good metaphor. In this poem, it is like a cry for help. This man is so desperate he is hugging himself tightly enough to be strapped in with a straitjacket. It wouldn’t seem like an act of desperation without putting the image in the reader’s head of the man in a straitjacket. Also, it would seem that he may be joking around if it weren’t for his face being plastered with a “screwy grin”. That is not the face of someone in a normal mental state, so it is reasonable to infer that he is sad or disturbed.
The action of this man is representative of different points of view. From one angle, it is a couple in an embrace, from another; it is a crazy, lonely man. This poem is a portrait of neither Billy Collins nor his foil, but of a persona representing the average human being. Not to suggest every person is desperate and lonely, but saying that he might be so if he were lost with no distinct identity or anyone to love him.
The perspective of the back of this man, the couple...