Tag Archives: caterpillars

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.”


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