Poets are often intelligent men and they are entitled to their thoughts; but intellectual pioneering and the construction of new thought systems are not their special function. Aeschylus's Oresteia was not a contribution to Athenian legal theory; Dante's Comedia gave us no new theology; and Shakespeare's history plays added no fresh concepts to the political thought of his time.

What poetry does with ideas is to redeem them from abstraction and submerge them in sensibility; it embodies them in persons and things and surrounds them with a weather of feeling; it thereby tests the ability of any ideas to consort with human nature in its contemporary condition. Is it possible, for example, to speak intelligibly of angels in the modern world? Will the psyche of the modern reader consent to be called a soul?

Richard Wilbur from the essay On my own work

A Weather of Feeling

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

  1. Love Calls Us to the Things of This World

    Richard Wilbur

    The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
    And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
    Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
    As false dawn.
    Outside the open window
    The morning air is all awash with angels.

    Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
    Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.
    Now they are rising together in calm swells
    Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
    With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

    Now they are flying in place, conveying
    The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
    And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
    They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
    That nobody seems to be there.
    The soul shrinks

    From all that is about to remember,
    From the punctual rape of every blessed day,
    And cries,
    ``Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
    Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
    And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.''

    Yet, as the sun acknowledges
    With a warm look the world's hunks and colors,
    The soul descends once more in bitter love
    To accept the waking body, saying now
    In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,

    ``Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
    Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
    Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
    And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
    Of dark habits,
    keeping their difficult balance.''

    Wilbur is testing these very questions in this poem.

  2. So, if poetry redeems ideas from the abstract and submerges them in the sensible then what is all this "nonsense"?