The Tall Camels of the spirit


I have loved the poetry of Richard Wilbur for about thirty years, and this poem was one of the first ones I encountered.  I had the delight of meeting him, even standing in the lunch line with him! at the West Chester Poetry Conference about 10 years ago.

He takes a philosophical quotation and turns it into images which then turn it on its head.


A World Without Objects is a Sensible Emptiness


The tall camels of the spirit

Steer for their deserts, passing the last groves loud

With the sawmill shrill of the locust, to the whole honey of the


Sun. They are slow, proud,


And move with a stilted stride

To the land of sheer horizon, hunting Traherne’s

Sensible emptiness, there where the brain’s lantern-slide

Revels in vast returns.

O connoisseurs of thirst,

Beasts of my soul who long to learn to drink

Of pure mirage, those prosperous islands are accurst

That shimmer on the brink


Of absence; auras, lustres,

And all shinings need to be shaped and borne.
Think of those painted saints, capped by the early masters

With bright, jauntily-worn


Aureate plates, or even

Merry-go-round rings. Turn, O turn

From the fine sleights of the sand, from the long empty oven

Where flames in flamings burn


Back to the trees arrayed

In bursts of glare, to the halo-dialing run

Of the country creeks, and the hills’ bracken tiaras made

Gold in the sunken sun,


Wisely watch for the sight

Of the supernova burgeoning over the barn,

Lampshine blurred in the steam of beasts, the spirit’s right

Oasis, light incarnate.





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Published by ahiggins2013

poet, birder, senior citizen, cancer survivor, Catholic sister. Eight books of poetry published: At the Year’s Elbow, Mellen Poetry Press 2000; Scattered Showers in a Clear Sky, Plain View Press 2007; chapbooks: Pick It Up and Read, Finishing Line Press 2008, How the Hand Behaves, Finishing Line Press 2009, Digging for God, Wipf and Stock 2010, Vexed Questions, Aldrich Press 2013, Reconnaissance, Texture Press 2014, and Life List, Finishing Line Press, 2015.

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