A World Without Objects Is a Sensible Emptiness Summary
by Richard Wilbur

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A World Without Objects Is a Sensible Emptiness Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The poem’s title is a quote from Thomas Traherne, a seventeenth century mystic and poet. The poem is written in a stanza form which would certainly be commonplace in the seventeenth century, with four-line stanzas rhyming abab, though some of the rhymes are slant rhymes. Line 1 is trimeter; line 2, pentameter; line 3, hexameter; and line 4, trimeter.

The central metaphor or conceit of the poem is that the search for Traherne’s “sensible emptiness” is a camel caravan, leaving the security of the oasis for a “desert experience.” It “move[s] with a stilted stride/ to the land of sheer horizon.” The camels search for a place where there is nothing but sand and sky. This central metaphor uses the ambiguous connotations of desert and oasis to structure the poem into a statement on the search for spiritual perfection. The desert is traditionally both a place where the ascetic goes to find God and the very image of hell, the dry place without rejuvenating water. Similarly, the oasis is the place of refreshment, the goal of the desert traveler, while at the same time it is the desert saint’s place of temptation, a return to the “Fleshpots of Egypt.” In fact, the archetype here is the exodus, the stately camels leaving the oasis to find God in the desert.

The speaker plays on the ambiguity of the imagery, however; the camels, the “Beasts of my soul,” are “slow and proud” and “move with a stilted pride.” He suggests that the camels are not ascetics but aesthetes, calling them “connoisseurs of thirst,” but what they thirst for is “pure mirage.” The goal of their quest seems to be an illusion.

The poet in stanza 4 refuses this goal of mirage and nothingness. He insists that “all shinings need to be shaped,” and he appeals to “painted saints” and “merry-go-round rings.” He exhorts these camels to turn away from the sand and the desert to (in stanza 6) “trees arrayed/ in bursts of glare,” and then names other green and substantial things—country creeks and hilltops illuminated by the sun. Stanza 7 advises the searcher/camels to watch “the supernova burgeoning over the barn” and then pronounces the true goal “the spirit’s right oasis, light incarnate.”

The poem, then, interprets the ambiguous associations in its own way. It takes the title’s quote as a mere description, which the...

(The entire section is 588 words.)