A Measuring Worm

More than one reviewer of Richard Wilbur’s latest collection of poems has noticed that since his wife died, the poet has written more about death, as in this example below. That would be a natural response, of course, for someone 90 years old, even if he weren’t recently widowed.

I’m a lot younger than Wilbur, but I know it’s recommended that people of all ages live with awareness of the shortness of our lives, as in Psalm 90: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Or as another translation goes, “Teach us to realize the brevity of life….”

If our dearest friends and family have departed, it could exacerbate any feeling of weariness we already had with this earthly existence. In the same Psalm the poet mentions the less-than-thrilling aspects of life: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”

A MEASURING WORM

This yellow striped green
Caterpillar, climbing up
The steep window screen,

Constantly (for lack
Of a full set of legs) keeps
Humping up his back.

It’s as if he sent
By a sort of semaphore
Dark omegas meant

To warn of Last Things.
Although he doesn’t know it,
He will soon have wings,

And I, too, don’t know
Toward what undreamt condition
Inch by inch I go.

~ Richard Wilbur

Richard Wilbur is a lot smarter than an inchworm, so I like to think he had this verse from I Corinthians in mind when he wrote those last lines: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”

Because the Preparer is Love, our Last Things, though unimaginable, will be the best.

wilbur 2011

8 thoughts on “A Measuring Worm

  1. I think about this all of the time. Isn’t that weird? I think what it will be like for us to be changed in a twinkling of an eye. I love this poem. It is wonderful. I was watching a yellow swallowtail and wondering what kind of caterpillar it came from.
    I think it must be nice to put on a new self.
    Lovely thoughts.

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  2. I have an affinity for caterpillars (they were my thing to raise before ducks came into the picture) and they hold endless fascination for me even still. They are a micro-miracle pointing to much bigger realities. God is so good to give us encouragement and limited understanding of such big truths in such a way we can see. Hugs.

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  3. You find such interesting and touching poems…and the best ones always reflect or take us directly back to the wisdom and hope of the Scriptures, don’t they? I have been noticing that with songs too…

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  4. As a lover of nature, and I know you are too, it is everywhere I look — the life and death and back to life again. And I appreciate each stage of it. The withering and fading and dropping of petals is just as beautiful to me as the bud. Thank you for your perspective and pointing us always to Him who created it all.

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  5. I have always had this funny little saying in my head (as long as I can remember anyway)….just two words…Caterpillar Ranch. It comes to mind often as I go about this sanctifying business of living. Growing up on a farm/ranch probably explains the symbolism. However, I have always felt that death was like a caterpillar unfolding and discovering he has grown wings. Love the poem…

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