The Alexander Mosaic. House of the Faun, Pompei. 100 BC.



Richard Wilbur


For Alexander there was no Far East,

Because he thought the Asian continent

India ended. Free Cathay at least

Did not contribute to his discontent.


But Newton, who had grasped all space, was more

Serene. To him it seemed that he’d but played

With several shells and pebbles on the shore

Of that profundity he had not made.


The Greek historian Plutarch, in his “Life of Alexander,” wrote: “When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.” Isaac Newton, who would conquer more than this in his scientific discoveries of laws of motion and gravity, wrote, “I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

3 thoughts on “Worlds”

  1. I love this mosaic! I remember seeing it in my dad’s Humanities book from college and just wondering at it. It’s Byzantine, right?

    Another thought … The horse’s eyes look so sad! I think his heart is not as thrilled as his master to go out conquering.

  2. This is a gorgeous, thought-provoking poem. I had somewhat of a prejudice against Richard Wilbur back in high school, because “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World” utterly perplexed me. I’ve come to appreciate that poem now that I’ve grown up a bit, but I didn’t exactly go seeking out more Richard Wilbur. You may have just changed my mind, though!

    1. I’ve just looked up the poem “Love Calls Us to the Things of the World.” I would have found that a difficult introduction to Richard Wilbur! My first of his poems was “The Writer.” That one and “For Charlotte” convinced me to borrow his volume of New and Collected Poems, where I discovered a number of new favorites.

      I am glad you enjoyed “Worlds.” You can read more of Wilbur’s poems by clicking on that tag link.

      Thank you for your comment.

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