(Poem #1116) Transit
A woman I have never seen before Steps from the darkness of her town-house door At just that crux of time when she is made So beautiful that she or time must fade. What use to claim that as she tugs her gloves A phantom heraldry of all the loves Blares from the lintel? That the staggered sun Forgets, in his confusion, how to run? Still, nothing changes as her perfect feet Click down the walk that issues in the street, Leaving the stations of her body there As a whip maps the countries of the air.
Today's poem is reminiscent of Sandburg's "Last Answers" [Poem #713] in its trick of simultaneously illustrating and deprecating 'poetry'. There is more to it than mere rhetorical trickery, of course - to quote one critic: In fact, the smooth surface of the Wilbur poem can successfully distract us from recognizing how unusual and unexpected are the twists and leaps that structure the poems narrative. Many poems by Wilbur, while striking a superficial "balance," implicitly celebrate, while demonstrating, the virtues of a wit that is elaborately playful. -- http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/s_z/wilbur/bio.htm and that certainly holds true for 'Transit'. I think what I enjoy most about Wilbur's poetry is his unxepected ('elaborately playful' expresses it very well) turns of phrase, evident here in the final couplet, where we are hit with the twin images of "stations of her body" and "a whip maps the countries of the air". (This tendency is even more evident in some of his other poems, my favourite being "blurring to sheer verb", from "A Fire-Truck"). Parenthetically, the line "made so beautiful that she or time must fade" seems to be a dig at Shakespeare, whose preoccupation with time and decay permeates the sonnets, though the imagery in the next verse is more reminiscent of a later generation of poets. And I have to admire the way Wilbur makes the images his own, blending them into the poem at the same time as he turns the critical, external eye of 'what use?' upon them. martin Links: The Modern American Poetry site http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/s_z/wilbur/wilbur.htm has everything one could wish for about Wilbur, including a biography: http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/s_z/wilbur/bio.htm