Richard Wilbur and the Metaphor in “Piazza Di Spagna, Early Morning”

I came upon this Richard Wilbur poem the other day and it hung me up.  Note how Wilbur takes the one image and, with the help of metaphor, transforms it into a new meaning.  That shift from concrete to abstract, so simple yet magical.

Piazza Di Spagna, Early Morning

I can’t forget
How she stood at the top of that long marble stair
Amazed, and then with a sleepy pirouette
Went dancing slowly down to the fountain-quieted square;

Nothing upon her face
But some impersonal loneliness,- not then a girl
But as it were a reverie of the place,
A called-for falling glide and whirl;

As when a leaf, petal, or thin chip
Is drawn to the falls of a pool and, circling a moment above it,
Rides on over the lip-
Perfectly beautiful, perfectly ignorant of it.

Note the rhyme.  Wilbur liked his form and music, but as in this poem, he doesn’t demand it take the lead.  Regarding form and content, Wilbur said in The Atlantic,

I must say that I never think of form as directing. I don’t think of the form itself as making any demands. In this I suppose I’m very close to being a free-verse poet. I think of the form as something that you choose because what you want to say is going to be able to take advantage of it. One example that I have always given my students is the Petrarchan sonnet. Robert Frost used to say if you have something you’d like to say for about eight lines and then want to take it back for six lines, you’re on the verge of writing a sonnet. And he meant the Petrarchan, I guess, in that case. Every form I think has a certain logic, has certain expressive capabilities. Most of the time the ideas that come to us have no business at all being thrust into the sonnet form. If we did start behaving that way, it would be true that the form would be directing us, would be making certain demands. But if one chooses form rightly, one is not submitting to the demands of the form but making use of it at every moment.

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