“Wish for a Young Wife”, by Theodore Roethke, may seem to be more than just a simple epithalamium, for the way the poet presents his writing compels the reader to question his true intentions. Nevertheless, although it is easy for the reader to trip down this path, a closer reading, in which one pays particular attention to aspects such the poem's imagery, rhyme scheme, meter, and parallelism, allows them to acknowledge that as the poet appreciates his wife and elaborates on what he wants for her, it is in fact the ambiguity of the poem that doubles the effect of his sincerity and love for his young wife.
What is intriguing to note is that the poet does not gradually build a sense of obscurity in his reader, but instead, promptly begins with the imagery in the first line of the poem, “My lizard, my lively wither.” Evidently, the word “lizard” is bound to catch the reader's eye, as it is quite unusual for a writer to use a reptile when describing someone in an intimate, love poem. On top of that, it is preceded by the word “my”, as if the poet is envious of his wife's beauty and charm. Regardless, the most common terminology used to describe a reptile is that they are dark, mysterious, slimy, and cold, which forces the reader to question the poet's actual meaning. With this in mind, the reader could conclude that perhaps the speaker holds a grudge against his wife's beauty, because he thinks that there are other men in this world who deserve her more than him. What probably builds this sense of obscurity is that the title of the poem completely opposes this thought. Even before reading the poem, one could make the obvious assumption of placing it under the category of love. Nevertheless, once the words “my lizard” are read, the poet is already successful in forcing the reader to do the most common thing one does when reading poetry, which is to think that to fully grasp the poem's meaning, they must look below its surface. The imagery in the first line of the poem is one obvious excuse for the reader to do so.
While the imagery in the first few words of the poem seems a little bizarre to the reader, and tempts them to believe that the speaker is not simply making an intimate wish, one could argue that the poet is trying to accomplish nothing more than just that. In other words, although the term, “lizard” is an odd one, contemplating its meaning from a positive perspective can also help us gain insight into the poet's true message. Many people keep lizards as pets, and since pet owners are very affectionate towards their pets, the poet might as well be using the word, “lizard” as a term of endearment.
Moreover, we can also conclude that Roethke references something that completely contradicts most symbols of affection, such as objects that are soft and cuddly, to sharpen the precision of his love.
More importantly, what further strengthens this claim is that as the poem continues on, its imagery becomes progressively serious and...