Study Guide

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World Analysis

  • Sound Check

    If you're all about the assonance and alliteration, well, so was Wilbur. And this poem is chock full of both of those poetic devices.

    The first line, for example, has the internal rhyme of "eyes" and "cry," followed closely by the alliteration in line 2: "spirited," "sleep," and "soul" (plus "astounded," if you want to throw another s-sound in the mix). Keep reading and you're bound to find more repeated sounds.

    They have a way of linking the poem together, of pushing you through from line to line, driven on by familiar sounds. But they also help Wilbur make meaning, as in line 10, which has the alliteration of "feeling, filling." The alliteration helps fill up the line with sound, mimicking the meaning of the line. It's a little dose of sing-songy joy, just like the joy these angels are feeling as they breathe in the breeze.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    To really get the most out of this title, you'd have to know a bit about an old guy named St. Augustine.

    Never heard of him? Never fear. Shmoop's got the scoop. St. Augustine was a Christian thinker who wrote in the 4th century. Around 397 A.D., he wrote a little (okay, big) book called Confessions, in which he outlined his religious beliefs, with a healthy dose of autobiography mixed in.

    If you read Confessions, in Book X, you'll stumble upon the following quote:

    I have learnt to love you late, Beauty at once so ancient and new! I have learnt to love you late! You were within me, and I was in the world outside myself. I searched for you outside myself and, disfigured as I was, I fell upon the lovely things of your creation. You were with me, but I was not with you. The beautiful things of this world kept me far from you and yet, if they had not been in you, they would have no being at all. (source)

    Yep, that's where Wilbur got his title from. Augustine's arguing that the things of this world kept him from communing with beauty and God because he was so busy looking outside, rather than in. Wilbur steals phrase (it's cool—writers do this all the time), and adds the "Love Calls Us" to elaborate on Augustine's point.

    Only, there's no mention of love in the entire poem, so why include it in the title? The "things of this world" part we can understand—there is enough mention and observation about what goes on in the world's daily routine to fill the world's most boring diary. So the love part must be there in a subtler way.

    What's love doing in the poem? It's calling us to the things of this world. And that makes sense, if you read the last stanza in light of the title. The soul is called back from its daydream to accept and love humankind and the flawed world. Sure, the soul could stay in its pre-dawn state, hanging out with the angels and living large. But every morning, it rejoins the body and all the messiness that comes with.

    Why? Because it loves the body. It's love that returns us to ourselves every morning. It's love that gets us out of bed. In short, "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World."

    Only, unlike for Augustine, for Wilbur, this is a very, very good thing.

  • Setting

    The setting of "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World" should be a pretty familiar one. Imagine your own bedroom, with a clothesline just outside. Imagine early morning, when the light just bright enough to see. Simple enough, right?

    But Wilbur isn't satisfied with simplicity. He zooms out to the whole world—its "hunks and colors" (25), its "thieves" (30) and "lovers" (31), and yes, even its "nuns" (32). You might say the setting itself is a celebration of all the messy wonders that love brings us when our bodies wake up and join with our souls.

    And that makes perfect sense for the poem. The quiet, no-nonsense setting is fitting for the soul when it's awake and bodiless. Things are simple, clean, and pure. It's a bedroom and there's laundry. Done and done.

    But when the body wakes up, things start to get messy. We leave the bedroom for the wide world, and what can we say? It's complicated.

  • Speaker

    We bet it's not everyday you read a poem in which a soul—a human soul—is the speaker. Well congratulations, Shmoopers, you've just done just that.

    In "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World," the soul does all the talking. First, it's looking out over the earth, observing what it sees (do souls have eyes?), and then it gives us the skinny on how it feels about humankind.

    It's observing people of all kinds going about their lives and maintaining a "difficult balance" between good and evil, between being angelic and simply human. Toward the end of the poem, the soul seems to come to respect and admire humans for their struggle, so you might say the soul is a pretty understanding fellow.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (4) Base Camp

    This poem takes a few close reads to get the full hang of. But once you get some of the major ideas worked out, things start to fall into place. Visibility is a little low in this thick forest, but the path is pretty clear. Just tread carefully and go slow.

  • Calling Card

    Ah, the Beautiful Universe

    Wilbur is concerned with linking our everyday lives to the greater spiritual world. His poetry is not religious, but it investigates human existence, and all the beautiful, wonderful, sometimes messy stuff that comes with. His poetry celebrates our ability to experience moments of transcendence and glory in our everyday lives.

    Also, sidenote: dude loves him some puns. So if you find a bunch of them in a poem, you just might be reading Wilbur.

  • Form and Meter

    Free Verse or Blank Verse in Six Stanzas

    At first glance, it would be easy to call this a free verse poem and be on our merry way. There's no rhyme scheme, and when we read it aloud, it's hard to hear any particular meter.

    But not so fast, dear Shmoopers. If you look a little closer, you'll see some patterns start to emerge:

    • Each of the lines is about ten syllables long, give or take a few. Even the shorter lines, like "As false dawn" (4), have ten or so syllables when you squish them together with what comes after (in this case, like 5, or "Outside the open window").
    • Each of the stanzas is five or six lines long.

    Hmm. With patterns like that, this poem's definitely playing with form a bit.

    A Metrical Mess

    As a general rule, when we see ten syllables in a line, our brains should immediately jump to iambic pentameter, or in this case, blank verse (or iambic pentameter with no rhyme scheme). That means we should be looking for a repeated daDUM daDUM pattern in the lines of this poem.

    But do we find one?...Sort of. Let's peek at the first line:

    The eyes open to a crypulleys.

    Okay this line totally starts off strong—"the eyes" is totally an iamb. It goes daDUM. But then it really hits the fan, and the meter's lost. No dice on the iambic pentameter front.

    But check out the last line of the stanza:

    The morning air is all awash with angels.

    That's a perfect line of iambic pentameter, it just has an extra syllable tacked on at the end (which is totally legit—poets do it all the time).

    As you read through the poem, you'll see some moments of iambic meter, and some moments where there's really no rhythm at all. Overall, you might say this poem's vaguely iambic, which means we can call it almost blank verse. Or something like that.

    The point here is that, while Wilbur's using form to structure the poem, he's not married to it. He can shake things up when he likes, and boy does he. It's fitting though, for a poem with such fantastical, free-flowing imagery. Why not have a meter that's free-flowing, too?

  • Spirits and Angels

    In this poem, we float around outside the body, hang out with some angels, and in general enjoy a strange, spiritual realm in the time just before waking. Sounds fun, right? But it's more than just a good time. Wilbur uses the powerful spiritual symbolism to remind us on the one hand of the idyllic place that exists beyond our world, but also, and more importantly, to remind us of the beauty that's right in front of us in our own flawed, human world.

    • Line 2: A twofer. The soul wakes up and separates from the body, as if it's off in its own spiritual world. Also, Wilbur uses "spirited," meaning energized from sleep, to get us thinking about the spiritual zone right at the beginning of the poem. 
    • Line 3: This is the soul without the human form. As of this point in the poem, it's only occupying the spiritual world, totally bodiless. It's just hangin' out.
    • Line 6: Instead of looking outside the window and seeing the milkman and storefronts opening, we're getting a glimpse of angels. Now that's a good morning.
    • Line 8: "But truly they are there." Here is the first instance where Wilbur insists that, though we can't see the angels or properly identify them, they nevertheless exist among us, try as we might to deny it.
    • Line 9: One of the biggest perks of being an angel or spirit has to be the power of flight. Here they rise like the wind. 
    • Line 10: "Halcyon" reminds us of an ideal place, a utopia, a place unlike the imperfect world we live in. Angels, not humans, are capable of feeling what that might be like. It's all good where these guys hang.
    • Line 11: Wilbur uses the phrase "impersonal breathing" to create further distance between "us" and "them." The angels aren't human, he reminds us; nothing they do can be "personal." He is asking us to examine the literal root of the word. 
    • Line 12: Saying that the angels are flying accomplishes the same thing as "impersonal." It's a reminder of what they can do that we cannot. We're still in a world without people at this point in the poem.
    • Line 13: They're everywhere! And have the power to be anywhere. Another thing that separates them from us. 
    • Line 16-17: The soul is capable of seeing into the future. We have gut feelings and hunches, but this seems more specific than that. 
    • Line 22: Heaven is kind of the major hot spot for all things spiritual. And the latest dance craze, apparently.
    • Line 26: Finally, we see the coming together of the spiritual and the physical. 
    • Line 33-35: Nuns, like priests, are the go-betweens, or guides, between humans and the spiritual. Here, the soul wishes for them the ability to float, which up until now has been reserved only for souls and angels.
  • Laundry

    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?
  • Morning

    Dawn is an age-old literary device, typically used to represent a beginning, (re)birth, or revelation. In this poem, it seems like each new day the soul struggles with its tie to humanity, but eventually accepts it and resolves to begin refreshed and anew.

    • Line 1: Right away we know this is the first instance of waking. Except it's not the body that's getting up here, but the soul.
    • Line 4: "False dawn" is an interesting way to start the poem. We were just discussing what dawn means symbolically. Placing "false" in front of it undermines the symbolism at the start.
    • Line 6: Morning, because of its newness and purity, is a time for angels. 
    • Line 24: The sun is coming up…but we knew that already.
    • Steaminess Rating


      You can bring the kiddos to this poem; there's nothing sexy going on at all.

    • Allusions

      Historical References:

      Saint Augustine's Confessions (Title)