In the town where we live in Sonora, many women still hang out their laundry to dry. They drape the washing over barbed-wire fences or hang it from clotheslines on rooftops. Every day is a changing cavalcade of britches, blouses, underthings, socks, towels, sheets, toddlers’ clothes. This gives me joyous cause to remember on a regular basis one of the most beautiful poems in the English language, Richard Wilbur’s Love Calls Us to the Things of This World.
Wilbur died last year at the age of 96. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/15/obituaries/richard-wilbur-poet-laureate-and-pulitzer-winner-dies-at-96.html
Love Calls Us to the Things of This World
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.
From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessèd day,
“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.”
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