“A Late Aubade” is a poem by Richard Wilbur, one of the most prominent American poets of the 20th century. The title of the poem suggests that it is a morning farewell song from one lover to another. The poem consists of seven paragraphs and “features a carpe diem theme with imagery appealing to each of the five senses” (Grimes para. 3). The purpose of this paper is to provide a line-by-line analysis of the poem, focusing on its essential phrases and words. The paper will also discuss the contrast between “A Late Aubade” and “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning” by John Donne in terms of the effectiveness of symbolism and imagery to have a more significant impact on a reader.
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In his poem, Richard Wilbur describes the conversation between two lovers who have to separate in the morning. The word “aubade” has a Latin background and comes from the Old Occitan word auba, meaning “dawn” (“Aubade”). The word then transitioned into French and now holds the meaning of a morning love song or a serenade. In the poem, the man addresses the woman he spent the night with and pleads her not to leave. The word “aubade” is used “whimsically here, for, though the lovers have recently awakened, the time is almost noon” (Pishar and Moridi 26). Thus, it is more of a noon love song rather than a morning one.
The first quatrain of the poem is a speaker’s words or speculations of what the other person could be doing at that moment. Wilbur uses the modal verb “could” to imply the hypothetical situations his companion can be involved in right now. It is also unclear at the beginning of the verse, who are the participants of the conversation. The writer creates a vivid image by using the words “carrel” and “liver-spotted pages” to picture a library setting, where one can read old manuscripts or books (Wilbur lines 1-2). Then, when Wilbur mentions the “ladies’ apparel” (Wilbur line 4), the readers get the first hint of who the participants of this noon conversation could be. In the second quatrain, the writer uses two words, such as “raucous” and “bed” (Wilbur line 5), seemingly referring to a gardening activity. However, somehow this word combination brings on a double meaning, possibly describing a passionate night the two lovers just shared. Wilbur continues to use words that imply the feelings of boredom, such as “screed” or “pitying head” (Wilbur lines 7-8). This technique makes the potential activities the woman might be engaged in sound less attractive and lacking any pleasure.
In the third quatrain, the readers are provided with some more speculations on what activities the woman could be engaged in. Again, the choice of words such as “bleak,” “unhappy,” contributes to making the possible activities unappealing (Wilbur lines 9-10). The next lines imply the woman could be a student since it is prompted she might be listening to a lecture on “Schoenberg’s serial technique” (Wilbur line 11). The final words of this quatrain, “Isn’t this better?” (Wilbur line 12) serve as the turning point of the poem, leading the readers to explain the wasteful nature of the activities described before.
In the fourth and fifth quatrains, the man claims that everything he mentioned before is a waste of his companion’s time. He also implies the idea that the woman herself is not interested in gardening or gossiping with friends when he says, “such things, thank God, not being your taste” (Wilbur line 15). The phrase “lie in bed and kiss” in the fifth quatrain finally lets the readers be sure that the two people involved in the conversation are indeed lovers (Wilbur line 19). Now that the readers know the two are a couple, the type of activities that man thinks the woman could be doing sound, some may say, sexist. This sexism can be found in the next line when the man refers to the woman’s sense of time as “by woman’s reckoning” (Wilbur line 20). There is a strict distinction here, amidst all the vibrant imagery of morning lovers, even if it has not been Wilbur’s intention, between how a man and a woman are pictured in the poem.
In the sixth quatrain, readers are given a hint that the conversation develops and now includes the woman commenting on the time. She probably implies that it is time for her to leave, even though the “time flies” (Wilbur line 22). It also feels like the man finally concedes that she “must go” (Wilbur line 22). The next lines Wilbur fills with words that play on the readers’ senses of taste. The phrases, such as “chilled white wine,” “blue cheese, and crackers, and some fine ruddy-skinned pears” are all used as a final attempt to entice the woman to stay. This technique appeals to the readers’ senses, creating visual imagery of a lazy morning of two lovers, enjoying the company of each other and not being ready to part.
“A Late Aubade” is similar to “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning” since both are love poems and feature a theme of the parting of two lovers. However, the feelings described in these two poems are very different. Donne’s love is a more significant and more profound feeling a couple in a long-term relationship share. Wilbur, however, describes a new, fresh love, and the theme of parting is not so pressing and life-changing. Both writers use symbolism and metaphors to let the readers comprehend the meanings of words in the poems. “A Late Aubade,” in this sense, is filled with symbolism that allows the readers, through experiencing the senses of touch, taste, and vision, to immerse themselves in the atmosphere the writer created in the poem.
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“Aubade.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2020, Web.
Grimes, Linda Sue. “Richard Wilbur’s “A Late Aubade.” Owlcation, 2020, Web.
Pishkar, Kian, and Moridi, Behzad. “Practical analysis of modern English & American Poetry.” Web.
Wilbur, Richard. A Late Aubade. 1968. Web.