Note: While the response below may be too short for our purposes and does not follow many of the basic requirements, it does take the poem’s theme and make it concretely personal. (Notes below)

Praise in Summer

Richard Wilbur

Obscurely yet most surely called to praise,
As sometimes summer calls us all, I said
The hills are heavens full of branching ways
Where star-nosed moles fly overhead the dead;
I said the trees are mines in air.  I said
See how the sparrow burrows in the sky!
And then I wondered why this mad instead
Perverts our praise to uncreation, why
Such savor’s in this wrenching things awry.
Does sense so stale that it must needs derange
The world to know it?  To a praiseful eye
Should it not be enough of fresh and strange
That trees grow green, and moles can course in clay,
And sparrows sweep the ceiling of our day?

This poem seems to be the reaction of an author who has looked back at his work and wonders why he must say things the way he does.  He looks at the words he uses to describe, and asks why he could not say it plainly.  Is it not enough that the trees grow green and sparrows fly, without having to compare them to arching heavens or burrowing moles?  At first I agreed with him—why can’t we just describe events factually as they occur?  I run into this problem when I’m trying to describe an event that affected me deeply.  I try to relate it to something else, to circle around what I’m trying to say until whoever’s listening finally seems to understand.  Why can we never say directly what we mean?  All the little phrases must have symbolism, each word choice must have a specific reason, rather than that it was the first thing that came to mind.

Writing college essays felt that way to me.  A simple one page paper, meant to convey the depth and breadth of my personality, to let them see who I am and allow them to decide if I belong in their school.  How can anyone speak of who they are in one page?  Are our lives so simple, so direct that we can tell what matters to us in five hundred words?  I have written thousands upon thousands of words, and yet, even if someone were to read all that I’ve written in my life, my journals and essays, these poetry responses, the letters and e-mails, they would not know me.  Yet they would know more of me than just the events that I have experienced.  The words I choose do have significance, and the language I use communicates my reactions.  The experience is what brings knowledge, and the descriptions are mere echoes, vain attempts to communicate experiences.  These metaphors and similes we use are necessary, not because they clarify with denotative language, but because the connotative experiences they call to mind can help us relate to one another.


This reading / reaction allows the poem to be seen and understood in a unique way, which engages me as the reader.  When the piece is over, I’d like to read more and converse with the author concerning the topic.  While the opening feels pretty standard, the second paragraph continues to build a connection to the poem and bring context to its message.  The author synthesizes and evaluates the work as he or she moves through the piece.  Many of the responses I see only show an understanding of the poem and work to analyze it.  This does much more than that. It is well-written, easily read and delivers deceivingly complex, but relatable ideas.

It is also does not feel formulaic. It feels as if the response was built around this discussion and this discussion only.  I would not expect that this construction would work for all topics and ideas and with that, the approach may not function as well when emulated by another.  It feels whole and designed for the delivery of these ideas.

Try to bring these qualities to your own piece.  Not knowing how you may connect to a piece, means that it is impossible (near enough anyway) to describe how you might create a piece like the one above.  I suppose part of its draw is the elegance at which is seems to convey the connection to this poem.

Please email if you have questions about the response or my praise for it.  I hope this helps give some shape to the discussion we began to have a few classes ago.