Love Calls Us to the Things of This World
by Richard Wilbur
Stanza 1 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
- The eyes—whose eyes? our eyes?—open to the sound of pulleys somewhere, presumably outside.
- Where might the pulley sound be coming from? A construction site? An old-fashioned well? Whatever your guess is, it's as good as ours, because Wilbur doesn't tell us much more.
- This first line might throw you off a little. Maybe you were expecting something visual to force the eyes open, like streaming sunlight. But Wilbur's doing a little sensory play by having a sound activate the eyes, not the ears. Cool, huh?
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
- Translation? The soul is energized from a night's sleep. For a moment, it separates from the body and just hangs out.
- Now let's dig a little deeper.
- The word "spirited" jumps out at Shmoop, since it's got a couple different meanings (making it a pun). Of course the word spirited can mean full of energy and enthusiasm, and that definitely fits the bill here.
- But spirited can also be the past tense of the verb to spirit, which means to carry away in secret. So we could also read this line as saying something along the lines of, the soul was carried out of sleep.
- And, of course, the spirit is also another term for the soul. Phew. Even though we think the first meaning is the most likely for the line, we can't deny that all the associations and definitions of the word are getting mashed together here, so we should keep them in mind moving forward.
- Then there's "astounded." Sure, the soul could just be surprised by the loud sound of the pulleys, but we get a newborn, smacked-into-life feeling along with it—a little awe along with the pure shock. We're betting the soul digs what it sees.
- Line 3 hints that the soul without the body is simpler and, we might even infer, purer on its own. Which makes sense. Life is a lot easier without backaches and pimples and all the other nonsense a body brings with it.
- Check out the enjambment between lines 2 and 3. The astounded soul literally hangs off the edge of line 2, and then in line 3, we find it figuratively hanging there, too.
- Wilbur's full of poetic tricks like that, so keep a weather eye out for more as you keep reading.
- And while we're on the subject of poetic tricks, did you notice the alliteration in line 2? Spirit, sleep, and soul all start with s-sounds. And astounded's got one, too. When a line of poetry alliterates s-sounds, the fancy term for it is sibilance.
As false dawn.
- Simile alert. Basically, the speaker is comparing the simple, bodiless soul and "false dawn," whatever that means.
- Okay, okay, we should probably figure it out.
- The scene actually takes place at dawn, so it's an appropriate comparison, but a little confusing.
- Why "false"? If you think about it, the poem so far is taking place in a sort of pre-dawn or pre-waking state. The soul is hanging out without the body, so the human world, we can assume, is not quite awake yet.
- So let's put all the pieces together: both the soul and dawn are simple and not quite real, hanging around for a moment before the real world sets in.
Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.
- The soul looks out the window and sees the morning air flooded with angels. Simple, right?
- Awash makes you think of water and flooding, but these angels are most likely airborne, so the speaker's using that verb in a cool new way.
- Plus, check out the vowel sounds in these lines. We've definitely got some assonance going on. There's the long o of open, window, and morning. Then there's the long a of air and angels. And the short a of all and awash.
- The first six lines have gotten us off to a pretty spiritual start, and they're turning into quite the echo chamber, to boot. The only thing missing is an end rhyme.
- Now that we've got one full stanza under our belts, is there anything you've noticed about the form? All the lines seem to be of similar length, except for lines 4 and 5. But if you squish those two together, they'd be about the same as the others.
- And length-wise, the lines are all around ten syllables (okay, so some are eleven). Usually, that's a pretty good indicator that we might be working with iambic pentameter.
- There's just one problem. Where are the iambs? This is definitely not a poem that goes daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM.
- Maybe Wilbur, who's known for his formal poetry, is playing with us a little. The poem has form (ten-syllable lines, five- or six-line stanzas), but no meter or rhyme scheme. What should we make of that?
- Head on over to our "Form and Meter" section for Shmoop's take.