To a Friend in Love with the Wrong Man Again

Stephen Dunn

‘To a Friend in Love with the Wrong Man Again’  by Stephen Dunn describes the ups and downs of love through the story of a digger wasp. 


Stephen Dunn

Nationality: American

Stephen Dunn was an American poet born in June 1939 in New York City.

From early on in his career, he worked in writing before publishing several books of poetry.

‘To a Friend in Love with the Wrong Man Again’  by Stephen Dunn is a twenty-two line poem which is contained within one stanza of text. Although this piece does not utilize a consistent rhyme scheme, the poet has chosen to create a few moments of full and half-rhymes throughout the lines such as that present between lines six and eight. 

A reader should also take note of the fact that a number of line endings are the same. Dunn ends his lines with the words “wasp,” “it,” and “name” a number of different times. This choice creates a sort of unity and consistency within the piece. 

To a Friend in Love with the Wrong Man Again by Stephen Dunn


Summary of To a Friend in Love with the Wrong Man Again

To a Friend in Love with the Wrong Man Again’ by Stephen Dunn describes the ups and downs of love through the story of a digger wasp.

The poem begins with the speaker stating that the world is not capable of being understood. No matter who one is or how much one thinks they know about the world, it will never be enough. The speaker wants to discuss the complexities of relationships with a friend who has been unlucky with the men they date. He does this by telling the story of a digger wasp and a tarantula. 

By the end of the tale, the tarantula has been trapped. It was inspected, stunned, placed in a grave, and used as an incubator for the digger wasp’s egg. The baby wasp digs its way out of the tarantula’s body and enters the world. This entry is compared to that of a butterfly and the short but wonderful time it has on earth. The speaker is making the point that in nature nothing is cruel or traitorous. The world is as it is. 


Analysis of To a Friend in Love with the Wrong Man Again

Lines 1-5

It was never meant to be sensible,
allows itself to be inspected.

In the first section of this piece, the speaker begins by stating that relationships, between people or non-human animals, are not “meant to be sensible.” They are made up of a complex array of interactions, some of which will be alluded to in this piece. There is no one who can make life “fully understandable,” but the poet’s speaker will try over the next thirty lines. 

In an effort to help his friend, who is “in love with the wrong man again,” understand the web of personal relationships, the speaker offers up the example of a “digger wasp.” This insect has an intense and deeply strange life cycle which to a human observer seems cruel and outrageous. On the other hand, to the insect, there is nothing strange about its life at all. The entire process is natural from start to finish. 

The wasp, when it is time for it to lay an egg, finds a tarantula. The wasp approaches…

…the tarantula

Like a friend and the tarantula freezes,

It does not know what to expect from this other creature and out of instinct remains completely still. This is the digger wasp’s first step. 


Lines 6-12

Then it digs the tarantula’s grave
while the tarantula watches. You, I bet,
the tarantula and made the digger wasp
sound honest, hard-working.

In the next set of lines, the speaker elaborates on the story of the tarantula and the digger wasp. After inspecting the tarantula, the wasp goes about digging its grave. Right in front of the spider as it watches. It does not understand what exactly is about to happen. This is a perfect metaphor for the way in which one can observe themselves in a bad situation, or within an unhealthy relationship, and be unable to escape.

In the next lines, the speaker makes clear that everything is not always as it seems. One might think, after reading a name like “tarantula,” it would be evil. In this scenario that is certainly not the case. The “digger wasp” which is made to… 

To sound honest, hard-working

Is the real culprit in this destructive partnership. This is a lesson in taking the time to understand something or someone fully before making a judgment. The same could be said for the friend who was “in love with the wrong man again.” 


Lines 13-17

And, of course, there is no villain,
utterly careless season.

In the next set of lines, the speaker makes clear that although the actions of the wasp seem evil,

…there is no villain 

Only the scheme of things, only horror,

In nature, everything simply is. There is no conniving, backstabbing or betrayal. The world functions as it’s supposed to. That doesn’t stop it from being horrifying though.

Out of this “horror” there is sometimes beauty. Such as when “a butterfly” is born and goes on to live through a “short, gorgeous / utterly careless season.” The purity of the insect, birthed into a world in which its only task is to survive, is a remarkable thing. The speaker wants to make sure the reader and listener understand the beauty in something so simple. 


Lines 18-22

I should have mentioned the digger wasp
You see, the instinct is maternal.

In the next section, the speaker returns to his core narrative of the tarantula and the digger wasp. He backtracks somewhat to make sure the reader knows that the “digger wasp / doesn’t kill its victim.” That is not its ultimate goal. 

Instead, it “stuns it,” and drags it over to the “grave” it dug. After this, the wasp…

…lays one egg

On its stomach, and closes up. 

The egg is now trapped within the tarantula, waiting to hatch. In contrast with this strange and distressing imagery, the speaker points out its instincts are “maternal.” It knows this is the best place for its child to be born, and does what it needs to do to make it happen. This is the life cycle of the world, nothing more. 


Lines 23-30

The newborn wasp feeds
off the tarantula for weeks,
as all of us would—and offer it
up to the heart, like a sacrifice.

In the final lines, the tarantula’s life comes to an end and the baby wasp is born. It has remained inside the spider for “weeks,” feeding off of the tarantula’s insides. Finally, when the time is right, it digs its way out of the spider and…

…enters the odd, wonderful world. 

In the final four lines, the speaker turns his full attention back to the friend who needs his advice. He tells this person that he has “no advice” for them. He knows the friend would listen to what he had to say and take it into consideration, but aside from the story he just told, he has nothing else to share. 

If there was some good advice for those seeking out love, everyone would take it. It would be “offer[ed]… up to the heart” and “sacrifice[d],” just as one often sacrifices their own happiness for love. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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