Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“On Inhabiting an Orange” is a playfully ironic poem. It uses common terms and concepts of geometry in an attempt to describe human disappointment in its failure to attain goals. While this poem is not very passionate in tone, it does neatly describe the irony of the human failure to recognize limitations (in the metaphor, the inability of straight walkers to see the curves that control their direction and prevent them from making any real progress). Thus the walkers always have high hopes, and, even though they should know better, their minds follow the stars while their feet follow the curve of the earth. The attitude expressed in the poem is of resignation and regret. The realization that the environment is not made for human aspirations has been treated by many other writers and poets. One of the most vocal of these was Stephen Crane, whose poetry and prose on the subject (“The Open Boat” and “A man said to the universe”) is widely known, but Miles’s attitude is less bitter. She presents the problem as universal. The failure of the world to conform to human desires is simply accepted as how things are.

The poem also invites the reader to play with its meanings and explore its implications. To be earthbound means to always walk in circles, to make endless detours away from a goal that is not earthbound. The figure of Donne and his ideal circle lurks in the background, providing a subtle, ironic contrast to the tired and unproductive...

(The entire section is 492 words.)