"Can Wisdom Be Put In A Silver Rod Or Love In A Golden Bowl?"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The poem consists of four colloquies between Thel and the Lily of the Valley, the Cloud, the Worm, and the matron Clay. Thel, a daughter of the Seraphim, bemoans her plight in a life of such brevity and inconsequence. As she converses with creatures below her in the great Chain of Being, she is instructed in the ways of God's unbounded love and the purpose for every creature in nature's pattern. From the Lily, Thel learns that one should rejoice in the seemingly minute functions of beauty; from the Cloud that nothing dies but is instead transmuted "to tenfold life . . . and raptures holy"; from the Worm that God's love extends to all things and that (as the Cloud has earlier said): "Every thing that lives/ Lives not alone nor for itself." The matron Clay reveals to Thel her own grave and ultimate fate. The motto sets forth the enigma that no man, in his finite capacities, is able to grasp fully the design and purpose of the universe and his function within it:

Does the eagle know what is in the pit?
Or wilt thou go ask the Mole?
Can Wisdom be put in a silver rod?
Or Love in a golden bowl?