R Richard Wilbur

Piazza di Spagna, Early Morning by Richard Wilbur

Published in Wilbur’s award-winning collection Things of This World (1956), ‘Piazza di Spagna, Early Morning’ is about a girl dancing on a serene, lonely morning at the famous Spanish square.

Piazza di Spagna, Early Morning by Richard Wilbur Visual Representation

Richard Wilbur’s ‘Piazza di Spagna, Early Morning’ is a poem where the speaker watches a girl dance at the bottom of the Spanish Steps in Rome. This poem is set on an early morning scene at Piazza di Spagna or the “Square of Spain.” It is one of the most famous squares in Italy. In this poem, Wilbur uses elegant imagery to describe a lively morning at the square. This piece captures the loneliness in the modern world, lyricism, and subtle gloom of Richard Wilbur’s poems.

Piazza di Spagna, Early Morning by Richard Wilbur


Summary

In ‘Piazza di Spagna, Early Morning,’ Richard Wilbur is reminiscing about a girl dancing at the bottom of the Spanish Steps, Rome, on an early morning.

In this poem, Wilbur describes a girl’s movements around the Spanish square as if he is witnessing her in front of his eyes. He calls her pirouette (an act of spinning on one foot) “sleepy” as she slowly dances around the water fountain. The speaker could sense an “impersonal loneliness” in her facial expression, but it was truly enchanting. Furthermore, he describes the moment as if she was not just a girl but resonating with the essence of the place.

You can read the full poem here.

Meaning

‘Piazza di Spagna, Early Morning’ reminiscences about a dancer at the famous Spanish Steps in Rome. Wilbur describes her graceful dancing as if she was a “reverie.” The speaker who was looking at her was also involved in it. This poem dwells greatly on how the art of dancing can channel emotions as well. Wilbur calls the dancer’s expressions to have an “impersonal loneliness.” Despite having his attention, she felt all alone.

This piece exudes the rare human communication that happens between a performer and an audience. Even though the girl did not utter a single word, the speaker could understand her emotions. She is described as “sleepy” and “lonely,” “beautiful,” and “ignorant.” Even if the entire poem is written in praise of the dancer, it is also a commentary on the delicacy of human emotions that can be stirred by just one attentive look.

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

I can’t forget     

(…)

Went dancing slowly down to the fountain-quieted square;

The speaker begins the poem ‘Piazza di Spagna, Early Morning’ by reminiscing about an early morning at the Piazza di Spagna in Rome. He describes a girl dancing freely on the long marble staircase. The speaker was “amazed” at each move of the girl. He describes her “pirouette” as “sleepy” since it is still early in the morning. Besides, her “sleepy” moves reflect her sense of involvement with the art. It feels as if she could dance even while sleeping.

Wilbur then describes the girl as dancing slowly towards the fountain. There is a subtle grace in the way the speaker speaks about the girl, and the tone of this section is lyrical. Alongside that, by the phrase “fountain-quieted square,” Wilbur hints at the silence at the backdrop. Only the sound of the fountain hummed that place.

Stanza Two

Nothing upon her face

(…)

A called-for falling glide and whirl;

In the second stanza, the speaker describes how even though she was dancing flawlessly with grace, her facial expressions told she felt lonely. At that moment, when she danced up to her heart’s fill, she was not just a girl. Rather, she became part of the square – the “reverie of the place.” It means her body language conveyed the essence of the place.

In the last line, the speaker describes her dance moves, “falling glide and whirl.” It was an awe-inspiring moment for the speaker to look and feel each move the girl made. It seemed like the girl was floating like a leaf in the wind. The tone of this section is enchanting, as if the speaker was enthralled by the girl’s dancing.

Stanza Three

As when a leaf, petal, or thin chip

(…)

Perfectly beautiful, perfectly ignorant of it.

In the last quatrain, the speaker draws attention to a falling leaf, petal, and thin chip that could fall into the pool. Instead, they circle above the pool for some moment and then slowly fall on the water surface. Wilbur uses this kinesthetic imagery to describe the dancing of the girl. She was so gracious that it seemed as if she was just like a leaf or petal hovering softly above the pool.

In the end, the poet uses a repetition of the adverb “perfectly” for the sake of emphasis. He describes her as “perfectly ignorant.” It seems, in spite of how perfectly she danced, she was not totally aware of it. In this way, the poet depicts the involvement of the girl with her dancing and the early morning scene at Piazza di Spagna.

Structure and Form

The poem ‘Piazza di Spagna, Early Morning’ consists of three quatrains (stanzas having four lines each). Each section contains some extremely wordy lines, while others are short, having only a few syllables. The overall poem follows the ABAB rhyme scheme. For instance, in the first stanza, the rhyming pairs of words are “forget” and “pirouette,” and “stair” and “square.” Besides, the poem is written from the first-person point of view. The speaker of the poem is reminiscing about an early morning scene at Piazza di Spagna.

Literary Devices

Wilbur makes use of the following literary devices in this poem.

  • Alliteration: The repetition of similar sounds in neighboring words can be found in “she stood,” “called-for falling,” etc.
  • Metaphor: The poet says, “not then a girl/ But as if it were a reverie of the place,” describing the dancer as a “reverie” – one thought in which people get lost.
  • Simile: It occurs in “As when a leaf, petal, or thin chip/ Is drawn to the falls of a pool.” Here, the girl is compared to the things mentioned in the line.
  • Assonance: The repetition of vowel sounds can be found in “sleepy pirouette,” “down to the fountain,” “Nothing upon,” etc.
  • Consonance: The poet repeats the “l” sound in the line, “A called-for falling glide and whirl.” It is an example of consonance.
  • Imagery: In this piece, Wilbur uses visual, kinesthetic, and organic imagery. It can be found in the usage of the words like “long marble stair,” “fountain-quieted square,” “falling glide and whirl,” etc.


Tone

‘Piazza di Spagna, Early Morning’ has a tone of admiration and enchantment. Wilbur uses words that suggest that his mind was completely taken by the beauty of the dance being performed at Piazza di Spagna one early morning. He describes how even though he was enchanted by her graceful dance, she was completely ignorant of it. The underlying tone of this poem conveys a speaker’s sense of awe. He was quite amazed to think how human emotions could spill through the art of dancing.

Historical Context

Richard Wilbur is one of the best-known American poets of the 20th-century. He was appointed the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1987. He began writing when he was eight years old. His first poem was published in John Martin’s Magazine. Richard Wilbur’s poems are known for their lyricism, charm, and elegance, as evident in the poem ‘Piazza di Spagna, Early Morning.’ It was first published in the National Book Award-winning collection Things of This World in 1956. In this piece, Wilbur alludes to the famous Piazza di Spagna, where the poet witnessed a girl graciously dancing at the marble steps.

FAQs

What is the poem ‘Piazza di Spagna, Early Morning’ about?

Richard Wilbur’s poem ‘Piazza di Spagna, Early Morning’ is about a girl dancing at Piazza di Spagna one early morning. Throughout the poem, the speaker reminiscences about the gracious dance moves of the girl.

What is the tone of ‘Piazza di Spagna, Early Morning’?

The overall tone of the poem is awe-stricken, enchanting, and reminiscent. This piece is about an unnamed girl who danced at the marble steps of Piazza di Spagna in the early morning.

What type of poem is ‘Piazza di Spagna, Early Morning’?

It is a lyric poem that is written from the perspective of a first-person speaker. The speaker is none other than the poet himself. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABAB. Besides, the poem does not have a set metrical pattern.

What is the setting of ‘Piazza di Spagna, Early Morning’?

The poem is set on an early morning scene at Piazza di Spagna, Rome, Italy. Wilbur describes a girl dancing there and how she was totally invested in her art.

What does the line “Perfectly beautiful, perfectly ignorant of it” mean?

The last line of the poem means that even though the speaker witnessed the girl dancing and was taken by it, the girl herself was unaware of it. Wilbur calls the girl lonely like the place. Besides, her dance conveyed her internal emotions perfectly.


Similar Poems

The following list contains a number of poems that similarly tap on the themes present in Richard Wilbur’s poem ‘Piazza di Spagna, Early Morning.’

You can explore some fresh poems about the morning.

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Piazza di Spagna, Early Morning by Richard Wilbur Visual Representation
About
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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