Love Calls Us To The Things Of This World Richard Wilbur 1955

Since it appeared in his third volume of poetry Things of This World (1956), "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World" has been Richard wilbur's most discussed lyric poem (see lyric poetry), including lengthy analysis in a 1964 symposium with Richard eberhart, May swenson, Robert Horan, and Wilbur himself. As the signature poem of the volume, it is, in Wilbur's words, "a poem against dissociated and abstracted spirituality" (25). A debate between body and soul, the poem argues for the importance of things of the world, rather than abstractions. This poem signals a new phase in Wilbur's career, in which he stresses the need for the imagination to accept, even celebrate, the given world. The poem's title, taken from St. Augustine's Confessions (a.d. 400), represents a struggle between dream and reality. Richard Eberhart sees the poem as a conflict between "a soul-state and an earth-state" that the soul must, by necessity, win (4).

Wilbur describes the occasion of the poem as needing to conjure an early morning "scene" in a "bedroom high up in a city apartment-building; outside the bedroom window, the first laundry of the day is being yanked across the sky, and one has been awakened by the squeaking pulley of the laundry-line" (124). The speaker gets up to a world where everything is inhabited with the spirits of angels. The soul, once loath to accept the new day and what it must remember, now accepts the body, with all its imperfections. One of Wilbur's few unrhymed poems, it is divided into two parts, structured as thesis and antithesis. Part 1, as Paul F. Cummins says, "develops the soul's desire by establishing the relationship between the soul and the laundry." The literal wash hung on the line is transformed by angels who fill everything with "the deep joy of their impersonal breathing" (11).

In the countertheme the waking body now has "a changed voice." The desired-for "nothing on earth but laundry" gives way to the soul's acceptance of the body, but now with a sense of loss and regret. That imperfection of earthly existence, Cummins further notes, underlies Wilbur's theory of the difficulty of reconciling sensibility and objects, summed up by Wilbur: "A lot of my poems . . . are an argument against a thing-less, an earthless kind of imagination, or spirituality" (50). In the poem the "bitter love" of the soul still wishes for "clean linens on the backs of thieves."

The things of this world, as St. Augustine acknowledged, take on beauty when they are changed through the senses or the imagination. The poem's structure and diction, through the common experience of laundry, have created, in Frank Littler's words, the "paradox of man's finding the spiritual through the actual—the theme of the poem" (53). The playfulness and ease of Wilbur's language in Things of This World underlie a serious commentary on the nature of the poetic process. There must be angels in the modern world, Wilbur argues, and the role of poetry is to define "the proper relation between the tangible world and the intuitions of the spirit" (125).


Cummins, Paul F. Richard Wilbur: A Critical Essay. Grand

Rapids, Mich.: David B. Eerdmans, 1971. Eberhart, Richard. "On Richard Wilbur's 'Love Calls Us to the Things of This World.'" In The Contemporary Poet as Artist and Critic: Eight Symposia, edited by Anthony Ostroff. New York: Little, Brown, 1964, pp. 4-5.


Littler, Frank. [No Title] Explicator 40.3 (1982): 53-55. Wilbur, Richard. "On My Own Work." In Responses: Prose

Pieces, 1953-1976. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,

Gary Kerley

"THE LOVE SONG OF J. ALFRED PRUFROCK" T. S. ELIOT (1915) T. S. eliotS "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is often identified by critics as the first truly modernist poem emerging from Anglo-American modernism. Ezra pound, who was instrumental in persuading Harriet Monroe to publish it in Poetry magazine, commented that it was the best poem he had "seen from an American" and that it was evidence that Eliot "had trained himself and modernized himself on his own" (qtd. in Ackroyd 56).

The poem, written predominantly in irregularly occurring rhymed couplets of various lengths, is a dramatic monologue in the tradition of 19th-century English poet Robert Browning, in which the speaker—in a state of distress or crisis—reveals more about himself than he appears to intend. Eliot's speaker, J. Alfred Prufrock, addresses an unidentified "you" concerning attendance at an evening party and asks a woman there "an overwhelming question." The ironic characterization of the protagonist Prufrock—who is not a great lover but a timid, self-conscious, and alienated man, a nonentity—is typically modernist. Although Prufrock exhibits the indecision of Hamlet, he knows that he is not a tragic hero—but rather "Almost, at times, the Fool." He is an antihero confronting the sterility and threat of the modern world, unable to act and frustrated by pseudointellectuality and impotence—both his own and that of the women who "come and go / Talking of Michelangelo."

Like Eliot's mature modernist masterpiece the waste land, "Prufrock" utilizes different tonal registers and modes of language as well as a lack of traditional narrative transitions to create the effect of chaos and fragmentation. An epigraph from Dante in the original Italian and allusions to the Bible, Shakespeare, and 17th-century English poet Andrew Marvell are juxtaposed with jarringly modern descriptive language and images: "When the evening is spread out against the sky / like a patient etherised upon a table." Prufrock's self-doubt, his self-awareness, and his failures are played out against an ugly urban backdrop, which mocks his romanticism and a social milieu that devalues his sensitivity and erudition. Despite all this, he experiences and expresses the idiosyncratic and poignant beauty of the yellow fog, the sea, and the singing mermaids he imagines.


Ackroyd, Peter. T. S. Eliot: A Life. New York: Simon and

Schuster, 1984. Hayman, Bruce. "How Old is Prufrock? Does He Want to

Get Married?" CLA Journal 38.1 (1994): 59-68. Smith, Grover. "'Prufrock' as Key to Eliot's Poetry." In Approaches to Teaching Eliot's Poetry and Plays, edited by Jewel Spears Brooker. New York : MLA, 1988, pp. 88-93.

Melissa Johnson

LOWELL, AMY (1874-1925) Amy Lowell is widely credited with introducing the imagist school to America's reading public. Lowell's identification with the movement began with her discovery of the poetry of h.d. (Hilda Doolittle), which inspired a pilgrimage to England and resulted in a number of lifelong friends (and enemies). Lowell embraced the imagists' emphasis on clear, unadorned poetry and soon brought her considerable resources to bear upon its wider dissemination. Lowell's poetry often explored personal themes of thwarted passion, interpersonal conflicts, the stark life of rural New Englanders, and the losses of war (Men Women and Ghosts [1916]), as well as more impersonal forces of myths and legends (Legends [1921]), and her work took a particular interest in Asian literature and Art (Pictures of a Floating World [1919] and Fir-Flower Tablets [1921]). In a career that spanned 650 poems, enriched by her sensitivity to sound and sensual imagery, numerous critical works, and a massive biography on John Keats (1925), Lowell undeniably altered the literary landscape of her time.

Lowell was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, into one of the most respected and influential families in New England. She received a private education at home under the guidance of governesses before attending private schools in Boston. Lowell began writing seriously after an inspiring encounter with the famous actress, Eleonora Duse, in 1902, though it was another actress, Ada Russell, who became her life's love. While Houghton Mifflin published her first collection of poems, A Dome of Many-Colored Glass in 1912, it was not until she traveled to London in the summer of 1913 to meet Ezra pound and H. D. that Lowell's poetry began to receive critical attention. Over the next 12 years, Lowell's influence continued to grow, and by 1919 she became the first woman to deliver a lecture at Harvard. In 1924 she won the Helen Haire Levinson Prize from Poetry, and in 1926, one year after her death, her book of poems, What's O'Clock, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

Lowell's desire for poetry to be a spoken art eventually led her to develop a form of free verse she called "polyphonic prose," which she argued wove poetry and prose into one another so that rhythm and cadence, not appearance or strict meter, identified a work as poetic. In the poem "East, West, North, and South of a Man" (1925), Lowell writes, "Pipkins, pans, and pannikins, / China teapots, tin and pewter," inundating the verse with phonic effects. By employing the alliterative effects of the multiple ps and ns of the first line and ts of the second line to the assonance of the multiple short i sounds and the lines' overall rhythm and cadence, Lowell argued that her polyphonic prose served as a balance between the strict meter of Victorian verse and what she saw as the less musical free verse forms of her day. While today Lowell's poems and critical prose are overshadowed by those of other modernists, her work's relevance to present-day literary theories has given her a new life beyond her years.


Benvenuto, Richard. Amy Lowell. Boston: Twayne, 1985. Damon, Foster. Amy Lowell: A Chronicle. Hamdon, Conn.:

Archon Books, 1966.

Jonathan Stalling

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    Does love calls us to the things of the world poem use rhythm?
    3 months ago

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