Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The central meaning of the poem, a celebration of personal transcendence, lies in spiritual illumination. Rexroth has said that “our experience of reality begins and ends in illumination.”

Rexroth was a proponent of Personalism—identified with the work of Dylan Thomas and Walt Whitman, among others—which defines poetry as personal vision, communion, and communal sacrament. For the poet, meaning evolved from spiritual community, from Martin Buber’s “I-Thou” communion. The poem’s organic vision reconciles self and other, life and death in the eternal process of creation.

A student of Böhme, Rexroth took to heart the mystic’s teaching that the light of divine love streams through the universe and that humankind is the signature of God in the world. In his introduction to the book for which “The Signature of All Things” is the title poem, Rexroth wrote: “These are simple, personal poems, as close as I can make them to integral experiences. Perhaps the integral person is more revolutionary than any program, party or social conflict.”

With luminous faith, the poet sought to reassert the powers of spiritual communion against the anomie promoted by urbanization and industrialization in the twentieth century. As critic Morgan Gibson has commented, the experience of the “integral person” in communion is Adamic: The individual becomes universal, and the universal, paradisal. From his wide reading as well as his translation of foreign verse, Rexroth evidenced an aesthetic that transcended space and time. According to Victor Howes, in The Christian Science Monitor, Rexroth was looking for a “sort of day-to-day mysticism”—that is, a direct and universal one. As Rexroth himself put it, “that sense of exaltation, that feeling of being on the brink of the coming of the absolute, is really a habit of living.”