Love Calls Us to the Things of This World Summary
The eyes open from sleep, and before the rest of the body joins the party, the soul wakes up and hangs out outside the body for a while. During this time, it regards the outside world from the window. It sees joyous angels everywhere, in sheets, smocks, and blouses. The angels fly around for a while before shrinking into the background so the rest of the world can wake up.
That's when things take a turn for the mundane. The soul begins to sense the inevitable—that the body will wake up and the world will continue in its normal human way, and the soul will have to go along with it. As the sun begins to rise, the soul returns to the body begrudgingly. But hey, it ain't all bad. There's also some celebration there at the end, of the flaws that make us humans, well, human.
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.
Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks; but truly they are there.
- The angels are dressed in different things: blouses, sheets, and smocks. They're not exactly ready for a night on the town.
- But whatever they're wearing doesn't seem to matter much. The point is that they're there. The speaker swears—they exist.
- Maybe he's worried folks will think he's crazy. Or maybe it's because, to the average person, these angels probably look like nothing but laundry, blowing in the morning breeze.
- Why's that? Well, what else would you find clothes-pinned to a laundry line but bed-sheets, blouses, and smocks?
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;
- The angels are being lifted up by little gusts, which the speaker says fill what they're wearing (the blouses, sheets, etc.) with a halcyon feeling—or a feeling of joy, goodness, and peacefulness.
- If you want to go with the laundry-on-the-line image, picture it blowing gently, then being lifted by the breeze.
- It's practically dancing on the line.
- The "impersonal breathing" of line 11 makes us think of the soul outside the body and the "false dawn." All these idyllic things are going on without the presence of humans.
- But it's joyful nonetheless.
- There is also something organized or choreographed about the image. They're all rising up at the same time, which makes sense if you think of clothing pinned to a line.
- They'd all have to move together with every breeze.
Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
- Let's break these lines down.
- "Conveying" in this case means showing or communicating. "Omnipresence" means being everywhere at once.
- Describing their speed as "terrible" might mean that it's something to be in awe of, something really impressive.
- Together, the lines mean something along the lines of, while they're hovering over the world, the angels have the potential to zoom anywhere at any time. They are angels, after all.
- Or wait. We thought they were bed-sheets. Can they be both? Metaphorically speaking, absolutely.
- Maybe the laundry is a metaphor for angels. Maybe the angels are a metaphor for laundry. Either way, it certainly seems like the laundry is being figuratively described as angels.
- So whoever this speaker is, he's a guy who can see beautiful, spiritual images in something as mundane and every day as drying laundry. He's either got awesome vision or an excellent imagination.
- Whatever the case, the speaker's not done with this idea yet. He's enjambed line 13 with line 12, so we'll have to keep reading to understand his finished thought.
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
- Those flying angels? They're moving and staying. Weird right? How can something move and stay?
- Luckily, the speaker answers this question for us by comparing these laundry angels to white water in a simile in line 14.
- The idea is that, though the angels are stuck pinned to the laundry line, they're still full of motion, probably thanks to that fresh breeze we've got going on.
- But then, things change. All of a sudden they "swoon" or swoop down and become totally still in "rapt quiet."
- Wilbur's working in another pun here. "Rapt" means to be captivated by something, but it also means to be carried away to heaven, as in the Rapture. These are angels, we're talking about, so the second definition fits just as well as the first.
- After they descend, they become so quiet that it seems as if no one is there at all. Perhaps they've gone back to heaven? This might be a sign that it's time for humans to wake up. Away with the souls, the angels, and all the otherworldly stuff.
The soul shrinks
- The soul shrinks? What, does it get tinier or something?
- Probably not. We're thinking that "shrinks" here means that the soul shies away from something, or cowers. Whatever's coming, it's not a fan.
- In any case, the soul is sneaking into the background here, slinking away as the scene changes. Prepare yourselves for the body to enter the fray.
From all that it is about to remember,
- Oh, so that's what the soul's shrinking from—from what it's "about to remember.
- From line 18 we can guess that the soul knows what's coming and doesn't like it.
- We can also guess that, because the soul already knows what's going to happen, this has happened before (maybe even on a daily basis).
- Instead of saying "all that is to come," Wilbur writes, "all that it is about to remember." This means the soul may have been bothered by this same memory before—it knows what's coming on some level.
- If that's confusing, think about, say, the last day of summer. You've experienced it before, and knowing that it's coming again stirs up fresh dread in you. You remember the feeling, and you know when it's coming.
From the punctual rape of every blessed day,
- The soul, still shrinking, is shying away from something new—the "punctual rape" of day, to be exact.
- Yikes. That's quite the turn of phrase. But "rape" in this case, is figurative (since there are no people in sight). Basically, the speaker is saying that the day comes every day and takes this miraculous "false dawn" from the soul, against its will.
- So the soul is bracing for the day to come and take away this magical moment it's been having with the angels.
- This seems like a big warm-up for the sunrise and for people to come in and wreck things.
- Line 20 lingers there, telling us that the soul is crying something, but we're not sure what yet. So read on, dear Shmoopers.
"Oh let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
- The soul speaks! And what does it say? A lot of nonsense about laundry and steam.
- Okay, okay, so it's not nonsense. Here's our take:
- To begin with, earth gets its first mention of the poem. This might mean we're moving from the heavenly, magical space back down to reality.
- And laundry gets its first official mention, too. Maybe this is confirmation that those blouses and bed-sheets really were clothes drying on a line, blowing in the breeze.
- And with that laundry, the soul hopes to see nothing but "rosy hands in the rising steam." These hands seem kind of detached, as if there aren't actually any real humans out and about yet—just their hands pulling clothes off the line.
- What's the tone of this line? It almost sounds a bit like a prayer, what with that "Oh let" at the beginning. The soul seems to want to cling to the magic of the people-less world, when everyone's still fast asleep.
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven."
- Ah, ambiguity. This line's chock full of it.
- We could read this line in a ton of different ways, but no matter what, it's clear that this is a continuation of the prayer or wish that started in line 22. We're still in quotation marks, after all.
- And what's the soul praying for this time around? Dancing near heaven, that's what.
- "Clear dances" probably has to do with the purity and cleanliness that the soul appreciates about the moments before humans wake up. It might also be a similar image to what the soul saw in the angels, and even what the rosy hands looked like.
- In other words, the soul wants these moments to last. Stay asleep, people, for the love of Mike.
Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world's hunks and colors,
- Alas, these quiet moments can't last. The sun's gonna rise, and folks are gonna get up and get on with their day.
- And that's just what starts to happen in these lines. The warm sun rises and lights up the world.
- It's worth noting that the sun's getting personified here. In general, we don't think of a gigantic ball of nuclear energy being capable of acknowledging, well, anything. And it's doing so with a "warm look," as if the thing has eyes.
- What's it acknowledging here? Hunks and colors probably just refers to all the things the sun lights up when it rises—hills, mountains, buildings, cars, trees, you name it.
- "Yet" is an interesting way to start line 25. Maybe the soul will change its mind about what's about to happen? It's bummed for now, but maybe it'll perk up in just a bit.
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,
- The soul returns to the body. Finally. Sheesh.
- This might sound like a happy occasion (reunited and it feels so good?), but it's described as a descent. Remember, the soul was hanging out above the body, floating around with the angels. Now it's gotta dive back in there.
- But the soul's not totally displeased. Sure, "bitter love" seems like kind of an oxymoron, but if you think about it, the soul, being part of the body, probably does love and accept it, even if it drags the soul down from its heavenly transcendence.
- "Once more" reminds us that the soul has gone through this before, so the outcome of these events probably seems inevitable. The soul will accept the body. But why?
- Whatever the case, now that the soul finally accepts the body, we'd better brace ourselves for a shift in the poem, because the man is getting up. And what will happen to the angels then?
- Oh, and the soul's about to say something else, so we'd better listen up.
"Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
- All right, pipe down, Shmoopers. The soul's yakking again. We can tell by the quotation marks.
- The souls telling someone or something to bring them (who?) down from "ruddy gallows."
- A gallows is a structure used for hanging people. Ruddy means reddish. The "them" is presumably the humans.
- This seems a little scary, but the soul is speaking figuratively…again. In other words, the humans aren't actually all hanging from gallows about to be hanged. The soul means something else, but it's hard to tell exactly what.
- If gallows are usually reserved for criminals, maybe the soul, seeing humans as flawed, says "bring them down" as a way of accepting their flaws. All right, all right, don't hang these poor guys just for being human, the soul says.
- This line reads like a resigned concession, as if the soul has accepted the fact that the day will start, no matter what, so it might as well make the best of it.
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
- Here comes that prayer or wish again. This time, instead of wishing only for laundry, the soul wants to put that laundry to use—on the backs of thieves.
- Again, we're betting this is figurative. We haven't really seen any thieves in the poem, but the soul is speaking generally of humankind, particularly about its flaws.
- Sounds like the souls in a pretty accepting mood—generous, even.
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
- The soul hopes that when the lovers go off to have sex, they'll be dressed in clean, fresh clothes, like the criminals.
- The speaker seems to be setting up a contrast between the impureness of human actions—sex and thievery—with the clean, fresh, angelic laundry.
- It's as if the soul says, hey, if humans are gonna go be humans, they should at least be wearing clean clothes.
And the heaviest nuns walk in pure floating
Of dark habits,
- The soul wants the burdened nuns to "walk in pure floating," which probably means in a more carefree, relaxed way. What's weighing these nuns down? Maybe it's the sins of the people whom they serve. Then again, maybe they're just a bit pudgy.
- Either way, it's worth noting that this line has another contrast in it—between heaviness and floating.
- "Dark habits" is a pretty clever pun. At first glance it seems like Wilbur means bad habits, but remember that a habit is what a nun wears on her head—maybe even making her literally heavier.
keeping their difficult balance.
- We suspected something was up with all those opposites and contrasts in the previous lines of this final stanza.
- Now we see that the soul accepts, understands, and maybe even loves humans for their balance of the good and the flawed.
- For most of the poem, the soul elevates the spirits and demeans the humans, but toward the end we see things start to even out more.
- The poem ends on a slightly positive note. The soul observes the noble struggle for humans to find balance between their flawed nature and their desire to be good.
- It ain't easy being human, and the soul totally gets it. It's even cool with it, to boot.