A World Without Objects Is a Sensible Emptiness Summary

Richard Wilbur


(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...

(The entire section is 487 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bixler, Frances. Richard Wilbur: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1991.

Edgecombe, Rodney Stenning. A Reader’s Guide to the Poetry of Richard Wilbur. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1995.

Hougen, John B. Ecstasy Within Discipline: The Poetry of Richard Wilbur. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1994.

Michelson, Bruce. Wilbur’s Poetry: Music in a Scattering Time. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1991.

Reibetang, John. “What Love Sees: Poetry and Vision in Richard Wilbur.” Modern Poetry Studies 11 (1982): 60-85.

Salinger, Wendy, ed. Richard Wilbur’s Creation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1983.

Stitt, Peter. The World’s Hieroglyphic Beauty: Five American Poets. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985.