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Richard Wilbur's "A Late Aubade"

Updated on October 8, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Richard Wilbur


A Late Aubade

You could be sitting now in a carrel
Turning some liver-spotted page,
Or rising in an elevator-cage
Toward Ladies' Apparel

You could be planting a raucous bed
Of salvia, in rubber gloves,
Or lunching through a screed of someone's loves
With pitying head.

Or making some unhappy setter
Heel, or listening to a bleak
Lecture on Schoenberg's serial technique.
Isn't this better?

Think of all the time you are not
Wasting, and would not care to waste,
Such things, thank God, not being to your taste.
Think what a lot

Of time, by woman's reckoning,
You've saved, and so may spend on this,
You who had rather lie in bed and kiss
Than anything.

It's almost noon, you say? If so,
Time flies, and I need not rehearse
The rosebuds-theme of centuries of verse.
If you must go,

Wait for a while, then slip downstairs
And bring us up some chilled white wine,
And some blue cheese, and crackers, and some fine
Ruddy-skinned pears.


Richard Wilbur's poem, "A Late Aubade," features a carpe diem theme with imagery appealing to each of the five senses.

Richard Wilbur's "A Late Aubade" consists of seven quatrains, each with the rime scheme ABBA. The speaker addresses a woman, trying to persuade her to remain in bed instead of getting up and going about her regular activities.

First Quatrain: "You could be sitting now in a carrel"
In the first quatrain, the speaker muses about what the woman could be doing: she could be studying some old manuscript at the library, or she could go shopping. The speaker's detailing of each specific act lends the poem a fascinating reality: "turning some liver-spotted page," and "rising in an elevator-cage."

Second Quatrain: "You could be planting a raucous bed"
The speaker continues to mention things his bedmate could be doing: she could be planting flowers or having lunch with friend. The flowers are quite specific, " a raucous bed / Of salvia." And luncheon with a friend would entail gossip about "someone's loves."

Third Quatrain: "Or making some unhappy setter"
Continuing to speculate on what the woman could be doing—training a dog ("a setter") or listening to a lecture about "Schoenberg's serial technique," the speaker then asks a leading question: "Isn't this better?"

Fourth Quatrain: "Think of all the time you are not"
In the fourth quatrain, the speaker makes his pitch that all of those things previously mentioned are a waste of her time. And he insists that he knows her well enough to realize these things are not what she most enjoys.

Fifth Quatrain: "Of time, by woman's reckoning"
Now the speaker tries to convince her that by remaining in bed with him, she is saving time instead of wasting it because he is sure that she "had rather lie in bed and kiss / Than anything." He calls her sense of time "by woman's reckoning," sounding somewhat sexist in his remark.

Sixth Quatrain: "It's almost noon, you say? If so"
In the sixth quatrain, the woman finally speaks. She tells the speaker that it is noon. Here they are in bed at noon, and she finally decides that she should get up and go about her daily activities.

However, the speaker just bushes off the notion that noon is so late. He just casually remarks that well, if it is noon, then all I can say is "time flies, "and then he alludes to Kerrick's line, "Gather ye rose-buds while ye may" in his poem, "To the Virgins." But finally seems to concede that she must go.

Seventh Quatrain: "Wait for a while, then slip downstairs"
However, even after seemingly conceding that she must go, he tells her to "wait for a while" and then to go downstairs and bring them up something to eat. It is lunch time, and he no doubt condescendingly feels that well, we have to eat, and then you can go.

Final Comment
The poem contains visual imagery: "liver- spotted page," "raucous bed of salvia"; auditory imagery: "a screed of someone's loves," "a bleak / Lecture on Schoenberg's serial technique"; tactile imagery: "lie in bed and kiss"; olfactory and gustatory imagery: "chilled white wine, / And some blue cheese, and crackers, and some fine / Ruddy-skinned pears."

All five senses are accosted in this poem that takes place in bed where a man and a woman have just spent most of the day.

(Note: Readers who are interested in experiencing other poems by this poet may find this collection useful: Richard Wilbur: Collected Poems 1943-2004, includes "A Late Aubade.")

Reading of Wilbur's "A Late Aubade"

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


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