'A Fire-Truck' by Richard Wilbur

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Advice to a Prophet1961Right down the shocked street with asiren-blast
That sends all else skittering to thecurb,
Redness, brass, ladders and hats hurlpast,Blurring to sheer verb,Shift at the corner into uproarious gear
And make it around the turn in a squallof traction,
The headlong bell maintaining sure andclear,

Editor 1 Interpretation

Poetry that Resonates: A Critique of Richard Wilbur’s “A Fire-Truck”

Poetry is not an easy form of literary expression to master. It requires a certain level of creativity, skill, and sensitivity to capture the essence of a moment or an emotion in words that can move the reader. Richard Wilbur’s “A Fire-Truck” is a poem that achieves this feat, and more. In this critique, I will explore the elements that make this poem so effective and provide my personal interpretation of its meaning.

The Poem: An Overview

“A Fire-Truck” is a short, four-stanza poem that describes the sight of a fire-truck rushing through the city streets. The poem opens with a vivid image of the truck in motion, its “great iron music” filling the air. The poem then goes on to describe the reactions of the people who witness the truck’s passing, from the “startled” pedestrians to the “dull-eyed” drivers who barely register its presence. The final stanza contrasts the beauty and power of the truck with the destruction it is designed to avert, reminding us that it is “a useful engine” that we hope never to need.


One of the most striking aspects of this poem is its use of imagery. Wilbur uses vivid, sensory language to create a picture in the reader’s mind of the fire-truck in motion. The phrase “great iron music” is particularly effective, conveying both the power and the noise of the truck in a way that is both visceral and poetic. The use of personification is also notable, as the truck is described as “screaming” and “rushing,” imbuing it with a sense of agency and purpose that elevates it from a mere machine to a living, breathing entity.

Wilbur’s use of contrasting imagery is also worth noting. On the one hand, the fire-truck is depicted as a thing of great beauty and power, a “sleek canary yellow,” “roaring with joy,” and “gleaming in the morning light.” On the other hand, the truck is also a reminder of the destruction that it is designed to avert, a “useful engine” that we hope never to need. This dichotomy serves to underscore the ambivalence that we feel towards technology in general, and the vital role that machines play in our lives, often at great cost.

Another notable aspect of “A Fire-Truck” is its use of sound. The poem is filled with onomatopoeic words like “screaming,” “roaring,” and “whirling,” which serve to create a sense of urgency and excitement. The use of alliteration and assonance is also effective, such as the repetition of the “r” and “s” sounds in the phrase “roaring with joy” and the repetition of the “i” sound in “driving its way with a shrill dry cry.” These techniques not only create a pleasing sonic effect but also reinforce the sense of motion and energy that permeates the poem.


So, what is the meaning of this poem? At its simplest, “A Fire-Truck” can be read as a celebration of the power and beauty of technology. The truck is depicted as a thing of wonder, a symbol of human ingenuity and achievement. However, this interpretation is complicated by the poem’s darker undertones. The final stanza, in particular, serves as a reminder of the destructive potential of the technology that we create, and the high cost that we pay for our progress.

To me, the poem speaks to our relationship with technology, and the way that we both fear and depend on it. The fire-truck is a symbol of our desire to control the world around us, to keep ourselves safe from harm. At the same time, it is a reminder of the fragility of our existence, and the way that we are always at the mercy of forces beyond our control. In this sense, the poem is both celebratory and cautionary, a reminder of the beauty and danger that coexist in our world.


In conclusion, Richard Wilbur’s “A Fire-Truck” is a powerful and evocative poem that captures the essence of a moment and a feeling in words that are both beautiful and haunting. The poem’s use of imagery, sound, and contrast creates a vivid picture of the fire-truck in motion, while its underlying themes of human progress and vulnerability give the poem a depth and resonance that is both thought-provoking and emotionally affecting. Ultimately, “A Fire-Truck” is a poem that speaks to the human condition, and our complex relationship with the machines that we have created to keep us safe. It is a poem that is both timeless and timely, and one that deserves a place in the canon of great American poetry.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry is a form of art that has the power to evoke emotions and stir the soul. One such poem that has the ability to do just that is Richard Wilbur's "A Fire-Truck." This classic poem is a beautiful piece of literature that captures the essence of a fire truck and the excitement it brings to a community. In this article, we will take a closer look at this poem and analyze its various elements.

The poem "A Fire-Truck" is a short, four-stanza poem that is written in free verse. The poem is about a fire truck that is rushing to a fire, and the excitement that it brings to the people who witness it. The poem begins with the line, "A fire-truck, red, full of ladders and hoses, / Pumps, buckets, firemen, stands at the curb, / And men in red hats are getting ready to go." This opening line sets the tone for the rest of the poem and immediately captures the reader's attention.

The use of imagery in this poem is particularly striking. Wilbur uses vivid descriptions to paint a picture of the fire truck and the scene around it. For example, he describes the fire truck as being "red, full of ladders and hoses, / Pumps, buckets, firemen." This description not only gives the reader a clear picture of the fire truck, but it also conveys a sense of urgency and importance. The use of the color red is also significant, as it is often associated with danger and emergency.

The second stanza of the poem describes the excitement that the fire truck brings to the community. Wilbur writes, "Children run out of houses, / Men run out of bars, women out of houses, / A small boy whimpers, 'I don't wanna go to school!'" This stanza captures the chaos and excitement that a fire truck can bring to a neighborhood. The use of repetition in this stanza also emphasizes the sense of urgency and excitement.

The third stanza of the poem is particularly interesting, as it shifts the focus from the fire truck to the fire itself. Wilbur writes, "The fire leaps like a dancer in the wind, / It is not a fire but a world of flame, / And the firemen are small in its vastness." This stanza is a beautiful example of personification, as Wilbur describes the fire as if it were a living thing. The use of metaphor in this stanza is also significant, as it conveys the idea that the fire is not just a physical entity, but a force of nature that is beyond human control.

The final stanza of the poem brings the focus back to the fire truck. Wilbur writes, "The fire-truck starts with a roar and a clang, / And the men in red hats are off to the fire, / Leaving behind the excitement and the fear." This stanza captures the sense of urgency and excitement that the fire truck brings, but it also conveys a sense of sadness and loss. The idea that the fire truck is leaving behind "the excitement and the fear" suggests that there is something valuable in those emotions, even if they are difficult to experience.

Overall, "A Fire-Truck" is a beautiful poem that captures the excitement and chaos of a fire truck rushing to a fire. The use of vivid imagery, personification, and metaphor all contribute to the power of this poem. It is a reminder that even in the midst of chaos and danger, there is beauty to be found.

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