Updated date:

Richard Wilbur's "A Late Aubade"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Richard Wilbur

Introduction and Text of "A Late Aubade"

Richard Wilbur's poem, "A Late Aubade," consists of seven quatrains, each with the rime scheme ABBA. The speaker addresses a woman, trying to persuade her to remain in bed, instead of getting up and going about her regular activities.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

A Late Aubade

You could be sitting now in a carrel
Turning some liver-spotted page,
Or rising in an elevator-cage
Toward Ladies' Apparel.

You could be planting a raucous bed
Of salvia, in rubber gloves,
Or lunching through a screed of someone's loves
With pitying head.

Or making some unhappy setter
Heel, or listening to a bleak
Lecture on Schoenberg's serial technique.
Isn't this better?

Think of all the time you are not
Wasting, and would not care to waste,
Such things, thank God, not being to your taste.
Think what a lot

Of time, by woman's reckoning,
You've saved, and so may spend on this,
You who had rather lie in bed and kiss
Than anything.

It's almost noon, you say? If so,
Time flies, and I need not rehearse
The rosebuds-theme of centuries of verse.
If you must go,

Wait for a while, then slip downstairs
And bring us up some chilled white wine,
And some blue cheese, and crackers, and some fine
Ruddy-skinned pears.

Reading of "A Late Aubade"

Commentary

This piece features a carpe diem theme with imagery appealing to each of the five senses.

First Quatrain: What She Could Be Doing

You could be sitting now in a carrel
Turning some liver-spotted page,
Or rising in an elevator-cage
Toward Ladies' Apparel.

In the first quatrain, the speaker muses about what the woman could be doing: she could be studying some old manuscript at the library, or she could go shopping. The speaker's detailing of each specific act lends the poem a fascinating reality: "turning some liver-spotted page," and "rising in an elevator-cage."

Second Quatrain: Other Things She Could Be Doing

You could be planting a raucous bed
Of salvia, in rubber gloves,
Or lunching through a screed of someone's loves
With pitying head.

The speaker continues to mention things his bedmate could be doing: she could be planting flowers or having lunch with friend. The flowers are quite specific, " a raucous bed / Of salvia." And luncheon with a friend would entail gossip about "someone's loves."

Third Quatrain: Still More Things She Could Be Doing

Or making some unhappy setter
Heel, or listening to a bleak
Lecture on Schoenberg's serial technique.
Isn't this better?

Continuing to speculate on what the woman could be doing—training a dog ("a setter") or listening to a lecture about "Schoenberg's serial technique," the speaker then asks a leading question: "Isn't this better?"

Fourth Quatrain: All Those Ways to Waste Time

Think of all the time you are not
Wasting, and would not care to waste,
Such things, thank God, not being to your taste.
Think what a lot

In the fourth quatrain, the speaker makes his pitch that all of those things previously mentioned are a waste of her time. And he insists that he knows her well enough to realize these things are not what she most enjoys.

Fifth Quatrain: Saving vs Wasting Time

Of time, by woman's reckoning,
You've saved, and so may spend on this,
You who had rather lie in bed and kiss
Than anything.

Now the speaker tries to convince her that by remaining in bed with him, she is saving time instead of wasting it because he is sure that she "had rather lie in bed and kiss / Than anything." He calls her sense of time "by woman's reckoning," sounding somewhat sexist in his remark.

Sixth Quatrain: Musing on "To the Virgins"

It's almost noon, you say? If so,
Time flies, and I need not rehearse
The rosebuds-theme of centuries of verse.
If you must go,

In the sixth quatrain, the woman finally speaks. She tells the speaker that it is noon. Here they are in bed at noon, and she finally decides that she should get up and go about her daily activities.

However, the speaker just bushes off the notion that noon is so late. He just casually remarks that well, if it is noon, then all I can say is "time flies, "and then he alludes to Kerrick's line, "Gather ye rose-buds while ye may" in his poem, "To the Virgins." But finally seems to concede that she must go.

Seventh Quatrain: Let's Eat Before You Go

Wait for a while, then slip downstairs
And bring us up some chilled white wine,
And some blue cheese, and crackers, and some fine
Ruddy-skinned pears.

However, even after seemingly conceding that she must go, he tells her to "wait for a while" and then to go downstairs and bring them up something to eat. It is lunch time, and he no doubt condescendingly feels that well, we have to eat, and then you can go.

The Five Senses

All five senses are accosted in this poem, which takes place in bed where a man and a woman have already spent most of the day.

The following list includes the type of image along with examples from the poem:

  • visual imagery: "liver- spotted page," "raucous bed of salvia"
  • auditory imagery: "a screed of someone's loves," "a bleak / Lecture on Schoenberg's serial technique"
  • tactile imagery: "lie in bed and kiss"
  • olfactory and gustatory imagery: "chilled white wine, / And some blue cheese, and crackers, and some fine / Ruddy-skinned pears."

Questions & Answers

Question: How does the last stanza provide a fitting conclusion to the poem?

Answer: I don’t agree that it does. The stanza seems to just stop rather than conclude.

Question: What is the effect of listing all of the activities the woman could be doing but is it not?

Answer: The speaker hopes to contrast the activities she could be doing with the activities he is encouraging her to prefer, in hopes that she will, in fact, prefer them.

Question: What is the effect of only getting the speaker's point of view in Richard Wilbur's "A Late Aubade"?

Answer: The effect is that nothing can be known about other people's points of view.

Question: What does it say about the couple that they haven't left the house all day?

Answer: Nothing.

Question: Do you think the woman is as content as our speaker?

Answer: There is no indication that either party in this poem is "content." Obviously, she thinks its time to leave, and he wants her to stay. But despite the ostensible conflict, the speaker offers only stereotypical "female" accoutrement as he describes the woman's desires. His sexism prevents his readers from knowing anything substantial about the woman and her thinking. Despite all that, the poem succeeds merely on it employment of imagery that appeals to the five senses and the speaker's own claim on the theme of carpe diem.

Question: What is happening in the first stanza?

Answer: In the first quatrain, the speaker is musing about what the woman could be doing instead lolling around with him in bed: she could be studying some old manuscript at the library, or she could go shopping. The speaker's detailing of each specific act lends the poem a fascinating reality: "turning some liver-spotted page," and "rising in an elevator-cage."

Question: What clues are there in Richard Wilbur's poem "A Late Aubade", as to the characters and personalities of the two people involved?

Answer: That he wants to remain in bed to kiss and fondle is a clue that he is sex-obsessed. That she seems to think they have spent enough time in bed already is a clue that she is less so.

Question: Do you think the woman in Richard Wilbur's "A Late Aubade" is as content as our speaker?

Answer: The issue of contentedness is not addressed in this poem. The man wants the woman to remain with him leisurely lolling in bed; she prefers to go about other activities; other than her making the move to leave, there is no other indication of how the woman actually feels about anything. The man seems to think he knows what the woman likes but again, there is no reason to take him at his word. He's merely stating his guesses at the time. In my opinion, he likely hasn't a clue what she likes; his interests remain totally sensual, carnal. Thus, he intense interest in satisfying all the senses as well as his carnal appetites. Sense-slaves like him are never deep thinkers.

Question: Why does the woman want to leave but the man doesn't?

Answer: It's noon, and she seems to think they have spent enough time in bed. He disagrees and keeps trying to entice her to say; thus, he seems to think they should continue with their bedding activities.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on November 07, 2019:

Thank you, Lora, for the kinds words.

Yes, a poet can't go wrong when he addresses those time honored poetic forces of carpe diem and the senses, especially when he manages to appeal to all five.

Lora Hollings on November 07, 2019:

I really enjoyed your wonderful analysis of this poem and its meaning. I also found it interesting the way this poet weaved the five senses throughout his verse. Thanks for sharing!