Barred Owl and History Teacher

Decent Essays

In “A Barred Owl” by Richard Wilbur and “The History Teacher” by Billy Collins, adults provide easy explanations for children when confronted with harsh realities. Both works explore the use of white lies to respond to children’s fear and curiosity in an attempt to preserve their innocence. However, the writers employ literary devices that convey these concepts in different ways. While Wilbur presents parents’ well-intentioned untruths as beneficial to a child’s peace of mind, Collins reveals the serious consequences of a teacher’s trivial fabrications.
In “A Barred Owl,” Wilbur constructs a singsong narrative of two stanzas with three couplets each. This arrangement provides a simple and steady rhythm that echoes the parents’ crooning to their child when she is frightened by “the boom / [o]f an owl’s voice” (1-2). A light-hearted tone is established when they “tell the wakened child that all she heard / [w]as an odd question from a forest bird” (3-4). The parents’ personification of the owl makes it less foreign and intimidating, and therefore alleviates the child’s worry. The interpretation of the hooting as a repetitive and absurd question — “Who cooks for you?” — further makes light of the situation (6). The second stanza introduces a more ominous tone by directly addressing the contrasting purposes words may serve given a speaker’s intention. While they “can make our terror bravely clear,” they “[c]an also thus domesticate a fear” (7-8). This juxtaposition is

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