“Love Calls Us to the Things of This World” is one of a precious few poems in the English language that operates as a perfectly delightful rendering of an experience that rides joyfully just outside the rational world. It can be seen as a companion piece to some of the poems of Wallace Stevens, the great modern American poet, such as “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” or “That November off Tehuantepec.”
The stanza is of five lines of alternating trochaic and iambic patterns, with the second and fourth lines tending toward rhyme. The poem opens with a reference to a “cry of pulleys” as an unseen neighbor puts laundry out on the line; the pulleys may also be an allusion to the poem “The Pulley” by George Herbert, the seventeenth century English religious poet. In that poem, the pulley is an emblem of the means by which God draws humankind to himself—in that case, by making humans dissatisfied with life here on earth. In Wilbur’s poem, the moment being described is the moment between sleeping and waking, when the world is in a state of perfect delight. Fitting in with the slightly non-rational tinge of the poem, the central conceit used here is that the moment is like laundry.
This strange moment is described in terms of the laundry hanging on the line outside the window. “Angels” in sheets, blouses, and smocks abound; they rise “together in calm swells/ Of halcyon feelings.” In stanza 3, they perform the astounding feat...
(The entire section is 445 words.)