Richard Wilbur is a modern American poet. His poem, ‘A Late Aubade’ hints at the subject matter of the poem through the title. It is an aubade. Interestingly, the poem presents the time of late morning or noon. In this way, it becomes a late aubade written for the speaker’s partner. Parting at noon would be the appropriate title. Whatsoever, to make his idea more interesting, Wilbur uses such an ironic title. Hence, readers can sense what is going to happen inside the poem from the very beginning.
In this poem, the poetic persona imagines what his beloved would have done if she left her earlier. She is there with him till noon. When she is about to say goodbye to him the speaker engages in a humorous conversation with her. According to the speaker, if she has left him earlier that morning, she might have found her engrossed in meaningless activities. The activities such as reading in a library, gardening, taking a walk with her setter, or listening to “Schoenberg’s serial technique”, can make her busy. But, she might be missing those warm kisses and satisfying physical proximity with her partner.
You can read the full poem here.
This poem consists of seven four-line stanzas. The shortness of the stanzas accelerates the verbal pace of the overall poem. Thereafter, the short lines at the end of each stanza quicken the transition from one image to another. The rhyme scheme of the poem is conventional. Here, Wilbur uses the ABBA rhyme scheme. This closed rhyming pattern hints at the compactness of the poet’s idea. Hence, each unit of this poem stands apart from another section. Apart from that, the poem is composed in iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter alternatively. However, there are some iambic pentameter and iambic dimeter lines too.
The title of the poem contains irony. Here, the poet clarifies that this poem is not like a conventional aubade. Hence, it is ‘A Late Aubade’, written in the context of lovers parting at noon. In the first stanza, the poet uses a metaphor in “liver-spotted page.” Thereafter, the poet uses metonymy in the reference to “Ladies’ Apparel.” In the second stanza, there is a transferred epithet or hypallage in the phrase, “pitying head.” Apart from that, the third stanza contains an allusion to Arnold Schoenberg, an Austrian music theorist. This stanza ends with an interrogation. The following stanza contains sarcasm. Along with that the poet also uses anaphora and alliteration in this poem.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
You could be sitting now in a carrel
Toward Ladies’ Apparel.
The poem, ‘A Late Aubade’ introduces the beloved of the speaker in the first stanza. Here, the poet presents what the lady would have done if she was not with the speaker in the morning. She could be sitting in a carrel or library reading room. The lady might be reading a book that contains some “liver-spotted page.” Here, the poet refers to an old book. Moreover, the lady might be in an “elevator-cage” of a mall, heading for the ladies’ apparel section. So, here the speaker tries to say that his beloved might be wasting her time in some meaningless activities if she was not with him.
You could be planting a raucous bed
With pitying head.
In the second stanza, the speaker remarks she could be planting a “raucous bed of salvia.” Salvia is a kind of flowering plant having sharp edges. To keep her hands safe, she might be wearing rubber gloves and working in her garden. Using this series of images the poet takes readers from one place to another in no time. However, the speaker says she might be reading through a “screed” of love letters. While reading she might become emotional and feel pity for those who have written to her.
Or making some unhappy setter
Isn’t this better?
Thereafter, in the third stanza of ‘A Late Aubade’, Wilber presents an image of the lady. This time she is trying to make her dog heel. Here, the poet clarifies the breed of the dog the lady has. It is a setter. Setters are long-coated dogs. Moreover, the speaker ironically refers to the serialism popularized by the Austrian music theorist, Arnold Schoenberg. He says the lady might be listening to Schoenberg’s monotonous lecture if she had left him earlier on that day. At the end of this stanza, the speaker sarcastically asks her whether listening to a lecture on “serial technique” is more interesting than his love.
Think of all the time you are not
Think what a lot
This stanza opens with a similar tone that is present in the previous stanza. Here, the speaker urges her to think of all the time she is not wasting and would care to waste. From this remark, it becomes clear that the lady is a bit tense. As she is with her lover for a long time, it awakens in her an awareness of time. Apart from that, this section taps on the theme of an aubade. However, the speaker makes it clear that his beloved does not like doing such things. Hence, she can feel satisfied for having some romantic hours with him.
Of time, by woman’s reckoning,
In the fifth stanza of the poem, the poet uses an enjambment. He connects the first line of this section with the last line of the previous stanza. Here, the speaker urges his lover to think. If she can grasp his thoughts, she can understand that she has not wasted her time. She has saved herself from such monotonous activities mentioned in the previous stanza by lying beside her lover. So, she should lie with him for the rest of the day and kiss him. Nothing can be more meaningful than being with one’s lover in a warm embrace, cherishing each moment of uplifting togetherness.
It’s almost noon, you say? If so,
If you must go,
Thereafter, in the sixth stanza of the poem, ‘A Late Aubade’, the speaker refers to the fact that it is almost noon. However, for him, it is still the morning. When one is with his beloved like time evaporates like a volatile liquid, unnoticed. So, if it is noontime, time is passing rapidly without much caring about the lovers. Here, the poet highlights the fact that is not rehearsing the “rosebuds-theme of centuries of verse.” Through this reference, the poet presents his view regarding the conventional love lyrics. The last line of this stanza contains an enjambment.
Wait for a while, then slip downstairs
The last stanza of the poem presents the speaker’s last wish to his lady love. Here, he implores his beloved to stay for a while. She must slip downstairs and bring “some chilled white wine.” In this section, the poet uses a consonance in the phrase, “white wine.” Thereafter, the speaker tells her to bring “some blue cheese”, “crackers”, and “some fine Ruddy-skinned pears. In this way, the speaker expresses his with to be with his lover for the rest of the day.
Richard Wilbur’s ‘A Late Aubade’ is a morning love song about lovers separating at or before noon. Being a modern poem, this poem does not follow the convention aubade form. The traditional aubade dates back to the troubadours belonging to the school of courtly love. This form gained popularity in the 17th century. Later, in the 20th century, poets use this theme to portray the theme of parting at daybreak. Apart from that, Wilbur’s poem contains several modern elements. The reference to elevators, gardening, and other images modernize the form and gives this poem a new outlook.
The following list of a few poems deals with the themes present in Richard Wilbur’s ‘A Late Aubade’.
- The Sun Rising by John Donne – This aubade is similar to Wilbur’s poem. Here the poet talks about a couple who are disturbed by the daybreak. This poem is one of Donne’s best works.
- Aubade by Philip Larkin – It’s one of the best-known poems of Larkin. This poem is about the inescapable nature of death and the speaker’s moments of despair.
- Parting at Morning by Robert Browning – In this poem, the poet describes what the speaker experienced after leaving his lover in the morning.
- Parting by Charlotte Brontë – This poem is about the separation from a lover, the power of one’s thought, and memory.