Three Valentines to the Wide World Summary

Mona Van Duyn


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Three Valentines to the Wide World” is the first poem in Van Duyn’s first book. In looking at the poem’s three parts, the reader should remember that a valentine is a short love message, and Van Duyn has addressed these messages to the world, emphasizing in her title the world’s vastness.

Part 1 is written in twelve-line stanzas, each stanza composed of three rhymed quatrains. That the rhyme is often slant rhyme (listening is rhymed with chastening, for example) does not diminish its effect.

The first stanza describes an eight-year-old child, awkward and graceless, who stands scratching a scab on her knee. In the second stanza, she asks her profound question without even looking up from her knee: “Mother, is love God’s hobby?” The speaker believes that the girl has not yet noticed that suffering and death inhabit the world, that she thinks of God as a gardener who will eventually create new leaves from dead stems. The child receives no answer, and the speaker takes her mind back to her own childhood, when anything seemed possible, including the idea that love sustains the world. Section 1 ends with a sort of prayer that the child will be able to maintain her sense of a world eternally re-created as she grows into “the grace of her notion.”

The second section is composed of seven four-line rhymed stanzas. The tone of this section is more reserved than that of the first; the section forms a sort of meditation on...

(The entire section is 480 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Burns, Michael, ed. Discovery and Reminiscence: Essays on the Poetry of Mona Van Duyn. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1998.

Hall, Judith. “Strangers May Run: The Nation’s First Woman Poet Laureate.” The Antioch Review 52, no. 1 (Winter, 1994): 141.

Prunty, Wyatt.“Fallen from the Symboled World”: Precedents for the New Formalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.