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Author Richard Wilbur Poem - Essay Example

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Wilbur's poem is a remarkable blending, or intermingling, of wit - joke, even - with high seriousness. The tone is difficult to pin down; meanings and attitudes glance off the reader in a manner which is exhilarating and provocative, but the final destination is clearly defined, and there is much wisdom in the vision and speculation that emerge…
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Download file to see previous pages We need to appreciate too that the earlier quotation continues to note that the "beautiful things" "if they had not been in you would have had no being at all." and The charms of the material world are the work of God too, and this is what Wilbur explores in the poem. It amounts, as the critic Paul Cummin says, to "a civilized man quietly and honestly acknowledging the beauty of the world and of the human spirit" (Cummin, 39).
The situation posed at the beginning of the poem is a bewildering mixture of the comic and the exalted. We are asked to imagine someone waking in the morning, and in the half-conscious state seeing the washing on the line as a flight of angels. The "pulley" which hoists the washing line also drags open the eyes of the sleeper, whose soul would prefer to remain in the unsullied world of dreams. This is the first example of Wilbur's subtle use of words both literally (the pulley on the washing line) and metaphorically (suggesting the effort involved in bringing the eyes to focus on the material world rather than the spiritual). ...
Yet laughter is denied by the solemnity and serenity of the diction. The sleeper is "spirited from sleep", as if awakening is a metaphysical experience. The soul is "astounded", perhaps by the abruptness of things and the sudden confrontation with the heavenly. It stands outside the body for a moment, literally in ecstasy, "bodiless and simple", facing the awe-inspiring, and beginning to delight in its freedom from the merely physical. It is a moment of exaltation; the morning is "awash" with angels - a pun, surely, which again puzzles our responses.
Nor is the comic/serious collision brought to a quick and safe end. The angels now appear dressed in "bed-sheets blouses smocks" as the washing flaps on the line. The surging motion makes it appear that "they are rising together in calm swells", ecstatic and miraculous movements, appropriate to celestial beings "of halcyon feeling", hinting at the miraculous bird of myth which could charm the winds and the waters. The motion looks as if they are expressing "the deep joy of their impersonal breathing", the joy of those who live in Elysium, whose personalities no longer plague them, and whose breathing reminds us of the origins of the word "spirit". The metaphorical/literal balance continues even further, as the "angels" who are "really" washing seem, as angels should, to be "flying in space", moving at "terrible speed" and being "omnipresent". Their miraculous ability to move at great speed and yet remain in the same place is like "white water". And finally the wind dies and they "swoon down", and the illusion (if that is what it was) is gone. "The soul shrinks", as it realizes that the physical cannot really be ignored or escaped.
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