Thursday, October 14, 2010

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World

I have had little time to write these days, due, at least in part, to the daily mountains of laundry rising in impressive peaks and ranges across my bathroom floor. And as I near the end of this pregnancy, mountaineering has become an increasingly daunting task. My four—soon to be five—boys have a unique genius for staining multiple sets of clothing each day.

Although laundry occupies a significant part of every mother's week, it is nevertheless a subject given little dignity by the literary world. There is no shortage of (mostly sappy) poetry praising motherhood in the abstract, but not much is said about what mothers must actually do to keep the household running. Potty training must certainly have the potential to inspire earthy metaphors, and doing the dishes is a topic ripe for poetic analysis. Clearly, more mothers of toddlers should become poets. 

G.K. Chesterton once said that "the poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese." True enough. But they have also been mysteriously silent on the subject of laundry. In light of this sad omission, I thought I would share one of my favorite poems, by one of America's best-known poets. It is the only poem I know of on the topic of washing clothes, and it elevates that mundane task to something almost holy. Read it twice.

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World

by Richard Wilbur

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul   
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple   
As false dawn.
                     Outside the open window   
The morning air is all awash with angels.

    Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,   
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.   
Now they are rising together in calm swells   
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear   
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

    Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving   
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden   
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
                                             The soul shrinks

    From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every bless├Ęd day,
And cries,
               “Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,   
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”

    Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,   
The soul descends once more in bitter love   
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,   
    “Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;   
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,   
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating   
Of dark habits,
                      keeping their difficult balance.”

1 comment:

Becky said...

What a beautiful poem! I have never read it before.

Thanks for sharing...

Total Pageviews