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Pop quiz: what's the first thing you think when you wake up in the morning?
We're betting it's something along the lines of,
Good grief, I have to do this all over again?
I really should have studied more for that test.
or maybe even,
Whatever it is, we're also betting it's not,
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.
But that's just how the soul in Richard Wilbur's 1956 poem "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World" gets up and at 'em. Maybe that soul is on to something. We mean, Shmoop's no fan of doing laundry, but we're all about the dancing. And doesn't the whole thing sound just grand?
Yes, it does. That's actually the point. This poem describes the brief moments in the morning when a person's soul wakes up before their body, and those moments are the cat's meow. The soul finds the world ten kinds of fantastic—there are angels and joy and flying and other forms of awesomeness. Then the body wakes up, and instead of angels, it finds thieves and gallows and bitter love—the things of this world.
If that all sounds a wee bit profound, well it is. But Wilbur didn't win two Pulitzer Prizes (1957 and 1989) and a National Book award for nothing. The dude was deep, and "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World" is the man at his deepest. So dig in, and we promise, we won't make you do any laundry.
Let's face it. Most of us are zombies in the morning. We wake up, roll out of bed, drag ourselves into the shower, get dressed, and it isn't until our first sip of coffee or bite of frosted strawberry Pop Tart that we can truly be considered awake (or alive, for that matter).
Wilbur's poem considers what happens before the zombie phase, when the soul gets a brief break from its world-weary body. It gets to give the world a whirl in the wee small hours of the morning, and it's pretty psyched about what it sees.
So if you've ever wanted a similar break, now's your chance. Still, that break can't last forever, right? Eventually, we've all got to haul our butts out of bed and get on with the business of living, of dealing with "the things of this world."
But wait. Why do we bother waking up? Why not linger in the awesome, angel-filled world where the soul's awake and the body's still sleeping? Wilbur answers that with his title—love. And really, Shmoopers, isn't love really the only reason we ever do anything? Okay, maybe that's stretching it a bit. But there's no denying that love one powerful motivator. We make sacrifices for love. We make fools of ourselves for love. And maybe, just maybe, we get up every morning and do it all over again for love, too.
All About Wilbur
Check out this full and fancy biography of Wilbur's life and works. It's got all you've ever wanted to know about your new favorite poet.
Poets.org on Our Poet
The Academy of American Poets gives us their two cents.
Open Your Eyes…
…to a cry of pulleys. In this vid, Wilbur reads us his poem, with the gusto only a real poet can muster.
Wilbur talks candidly about his life as a poet for almost an hour. Definitely worth a listen.
Listen to Wilbur read ten of his poems from the comfort of your own living room.
For a Fellow Poet
Wilbur reads Elizabeth Bishop's work in tribute. Yep, it's an awesome combo of poetry prowess.
Wilbur as a young man.
Say Cheese (Part II)
Wilbur now, sporting some specs.
Check out Wilbur's latest—a 2010 collection.
If you just can't get enough Wilbur, we've got you covered.