‘Wishes’ is a lovely, short poem by Dora Sigerson Shorter that includes vibrant images of nature and a wish that humanity could love and live as fully and purely as flowers, bees, and birds. The poet intended to leave the reader with questions in regard to the value of all lives by the time they finished this poem. In the end, the reader should be wondering whether or not there’s a better way for them to live than that which they’ve been engaging in.
Summary of Wishes
In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker focuses on flowers. She wishes that human beings could match their lives to those of flowers and live while they were beautiful and die without pain. Love, she thinks, should be more like the love of bees. They have simple romances and lives together that, again, end without sorrow. In the final stanza, the speaker talks about birds and their beautiful, free lives. She expresses envy on behalf of the human race that our lives and deaths are not so wonderful.
Themes in Wishes
Shorter engages with themes of beauty, life, death, and love in ‘Wishes.’ She looks to the natural world and sees in it the possibility of a life that’s quite different from that many human beings live. In the world of birds, bees, and flowers, love comes easily and purely. Life is lived to the fullest, and death strikes when one is at their peak before old age can take hold and make living difficult. One should leave this poem with a new appreciation for the way that other beings live and a curiosity about how they might better their own lives.
Structure and Form
‘Wishes’ by Dora Sigerson Shorter is a three-stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABCB, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. Although the lines are all around the same length, there is no single metrical pattern that unites them. Despite this fact, close readers will likely be able to spot several examples of iambs and even a few trochees scattered throughout the poem.
Shorter makes use of several literary devices in ‘Wishes.’ These include but are not limited to anaphora, alliteration, caesura, and imagery. The latter is perhaps the most important technique a poet can use in their work. Without it, readers will be left unmoved by what they’ve read. The best poems use images creatively and originally. In this case, most of the poem is filled with such images. For example, “To slumber and sway in the heart of the night” in stanza one and “Love flew with a whispered good-bye” in stanza two.
Caesurae are pauses in the middle of lines that are created due to the use of punctuation or due to the natural pause in a metrical pattern. The third line of the second stanza is a good example. It reads: “With laughter, when, after the wooer had won.”
Alliteration and anaphora are types of repetition. The first is concerned with the use and reuse of consonant sounds. For example, “breathe” and “bloom” in line two of the first stanza, as well as “slumber and sway” in line three of the same stanza. Anaphora is slightly different. It focuses on the repetition of words o phrases at the beginning of lines. For instance, “To,” which starts lines two and three of the first stanza as well as line two of both the second and third stanzas. Or, “I wish we could” that starts the first line of all three stanzas.
Analysis of Wishes
I wish we could live as the flowers live,
To breathe and to bloom in the summer and sun;
To slumber and sway in the heart of the night,
And to die when our glory had done.
In the first stanza of ‘Wishes,’ the speaker begins with the first of three wishes. She wishes that “we” could live as “flowers live.” The “we” in this wish and all the others is likely in regard to humanity as a whole or perhaps to a specific person, someone with whom she’d like to craft a life.
The following lines outline what exactly the speaker is thinking when she wishes for a life similar to those flowers enjoy. She’d like to bloom beautifully in the summer and live to the fullest in the sun and then “die when our glory had done.” They’d reach the peak of their potential and then drift away peacefully, having left a beautiful mark on the world.
I wish we could love as the bees love,
To rest or to roam without sorrow or sigh;
With laughter, when, after the wooer had won,
Love flew with a whispered good-bye.
In the second stanza, the poet makes a different although the related argument for how one should live their life. She wishes she, and everyone else, could “love as the bees love” and rest and roam without “sorrow or sigh.” The bees, she thinks, feel either of these emotions. They live simply and without complications. Their love, she wishes, would be as simple and full as it could be. There would be no human imposed conflicts or issues.
I wish we could die as the birds die,
To fly and to fall when our beauty was best:
No trammels of time on the years of our face;
And to leave but an empty nest.
In the final stanza of the poem, the speaker talks about death. Here, she wishes that death came to humanity as it does to birds. To “fall when our beauty was best.” This is similar to the argument she made in regard to flowers. There are no pains of old age to deal with, nor are there sorrows and suffering that one leaves behind. Humanity could let go of pretensions of immortality and live through the time they have, leaving behind no pain or regret.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Wishes’ by Dora Sigerson Shorter should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Wild Geese’ by Mary Oliver – This poem expresses what one must do in order to lead a good life. She asks the reader not to worry about being good but being true to nature.
- ‘The World is Too Much With Us’ by William Wordsworth – The speaker talks about the vices of the world and inspires the reader to seek out a better way of living.
- ‘The Nightingale’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge – This poem reflects on the nightingale and the image of it as a melancholic bird.