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Love Calls Us to the Things of This World

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World

by Richard Wilbur

Laundry

Symbol Analysis

On the most basic level, this poem is all about laundry. For real. Sure, there are angels and spirits and souls and the like, but there are also just some bed-sheets, pinned to a clothesline. In that sense, laundry connects the real, mundane, physical world to the wonderful world of angels that the soul gets to inhabit before the body wakes up. But laundry also represents cleanliness and purity. This isn't the dirty laundry in the hamper we're talking about; it's the morning-fresh stuff, drying on the line in the breezy dawn.

  • Line 6: "Awash" is an easy one to miss on first read, but after finding all the laundry symbolism, it's safe to say Wilbur chose it intentionally. It's a pun.
  • Line 7-8: Here we have the "sheet ghost" costume imagery, familiar to Halloween-lovers everywhere.
  • Line 21: This is sort of a weird one when you first read it. It's the first literal mention of laundry, and it seems strange that the soul would blab on about something so, well, everyday when there's all this spiritual stuff going down. But when you realize how much laundry is there before it, and what it stands for, it makes perfect sense. 
  • Line 22: This idea of cleanliness, washing, and purity ties the laundry to the spiritual. 
  • Line 30: Again, purity and cleanliness for even the basest of humans. 
  • Line 31: This one's similar to line 30. Think virgins wearing white. Until they are "undone" they are "fresh and sweet." 
  • Line 33: The cleverest of all the laundry lines. "Habits" here does double-duty—as a garment and as an action. Clever, no?

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