The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“On Inhabiting an Orange” is a short, low-key poem about the discrepancy between hopes and actuality. It briefly, dryly, and precisely notes that travelers never arrive anywhere near their exalted destinations but rather follow the route defined by the shape of the globe on which they walk. Like other poems in Josephine Miles’s first major collection, Lines at Intersection, “On Inhabiting an Orange” makes use of geometrical imagery. In this poem, Miles makes an extended metaphor of a geometrical puzzle. Miles’s early work is preoccupied with shapes and figures and sometimes plays with multiple meanings of geometrical terms. This approach led some of her early critics to criticize her work for lack of passion; because the emotion in a Miles poem is never on the surface, they claim that her poetry is more interesting than moving. However, this philosophical poem does have feeling that is not expressed directly but is carefully confined within the imagery.

“On Inhabiting an Orange” takes as its basis the paradox that one cannot walk straight (in a theoretical sense) upon a sphere. The curved surface of the earth disrupts the projected straight line, drawing the walker’s path toward its origin. Because the earth is a sphere, humans “inhabit an orange.” At first glance, the title might suggest living within a sphere, but this is not what is intended. The earth dwellers live on the surface of the orange, forced by its shape to...

(The entire section is 505 words.)