The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“On All That Glides in the Air” is a short lyric poem of forty-two lines divided into three unequal stanzas originally written in Swedish. The title of the poem suggests a casual meditation on the joys of floating through the air. When a bird in flight appears to be resting, it is considered to be “gliding,” an apparently effortless motion. However, a closer examination of the poem’s three stanzas suggests that “gliding” has multiple meanings, many of which are not as benign as they appear on the surface.

The first line in the first stanza implies that the narrator is expecting to die soon because he says, “My grave is still nowhere to be seen.” With no clear resting place, the narrator is forced to continue searching and gliding. He is joined in the latter activity by other beings: companion gliders, companions at rest, and even those who are already dead. The image is of a vast landscape in which all beings, both dead and alive, join together in one continuous motion. Although the speaker admits that there is no word to express the image that he sees in his mind’s eye, he compares this gliding to the sailing of a balloonist through the sky in an “ocean of air.” The speaker abruptly shifts to the second-person point of view in a warning to the reader: “this ocean of air is yourself.” In one quick turn of phrase, the speaker moves from a dreamy, peaceful image of a hot air balloon floating through exterior space to a chilling...

(The entire section is 581 words.)