After the Last Bulletins by Richard Wilbur

Introduction and Theme

Wilbur is best known for his poetic intelligence and philosophy of life and this is well explicit in all his poems at large and in After the Last Bulletins in particular. Wilbur points to a very important fact of life of what is significant today may become insignificant tomorrow. He takes the newspapers for example and says that the newspapers which are fresh today and most welcome for and accepted for reading, become stale and useless the other day.

The poem is pictorial in nature, an example of imagery, which is a typical quality of Wilbur. He tells us what happens to the newspapers after they have been read thrown at different places. The editors publish the papers and fall into a delicious slumber, but their printed newspapers toss and tumble all over the city, get splashed by mud and torn by the spikes of railings. They are carried away by wind where it flows. They travel through streets, gutters and deserted places and faded insignificantly into nothingness. The papers, which are read enthusiastically in front of the eyes and placed securely on the shelves, are trampled down by feet after they have become outdated.

This is not the whole story. They are again printed and held important like the other day and this cycle keeps repeating all the times. The poet says that life is not motionless or stagnant. The old order is replaced by the new order. The old generation must give way for the new one. What is important today, will fall into nothingness tomorrow. That is the way of the world. Things have worked the same way and will continue to be the same till the end. Things will keep like this forever. What is important in life is to keep pace with it.

A Critique of After the Last Bulletins

Richard Wilbur is a modern poet and chooses modern themes and topics. He lives in the scientific age, but he doesn’t speak about the scientific discoveries. He discusses facts of life. After the Last Bulletins is about various facts of life. The most importance aspect is of waste. Human efforts are geared towards collecting tons of information and provide it for the common mind. The people receive information and study it casually, throw it heartlessly. They don’t enjoy reading the newspapers.

This printing of newspapers is cycled every day and it is taken to be routine matter rather than a serious one. Even this producing of newspaper is not done for a noble cause, perhaps only for the sake of routine or business itself. There seems to be a waste everywhere: in information technology, scientific knowledge and economic productivity. After The Last Bulletins criticizes man’s preoccupation with modern media. Media has become very important in the 20th century and today its importance cannot be denied.

Though the poem is about Last Bulletins and the subsequent results yet it raises certain issues about the facts of life ranging from ignorance to knowledge, the blessing of sleep, waste in human life, degrading of human society and complexity of human nature. Some of these themes are obvious and are not easy to find out, but the rest of them difficult to understand thought the poem because of its ambiguity as is the case with most American poems because they are too intellectually designed for a common mind.
Development of Thought
Abundance of knowledge and ignorance

The poet speaks about the abundance of knowledge in the modern age. The production of newspapers and their presence everywhere actually symbolizes the abundance of knowledge scattered around and easily accessible to human mind. We do utilize this information and keep ourselves in touch with day-to-day happenings, but it is the irony of our life that despite this craze for gathering and collecting information, man’s knowledge of truth has really not improved. Man is as ignorance as he was before this abundance. Even if he has acquired this knowledge through various sources, he uses it in counter attitudes and opposites. We do collect facts, but we ignore the spiritual reality behind them. So we can say that man has advanced in the field of information technology, but he is spiritually declined. The more information he has, the more ignorant he has come to be. Despite this abundance of information which is flying all around, human nature is not understood and real peace is sought in the every day activities.
Emergence of a New World
After the last bulletins the windows darken

And the whole city founders readily and deep,

Sliding on all its pillows

To the thronged Atlantis of personal sleep,

The ocean of sleep is very calm like the Atlantis. In sleep, a new world of ideas open up in which the poem addresses some issues. The concept of new world and a new power is furthered through the imagery of winds, which rise as son as we sleep and turn off our lights. In sleep, a new word emerges. This is the world of agitations and questions, which arise from out inner self in sleep, which challenge the people who are proud of their knowledge. Perhaps it is due to these that we drown ourselves in daily activities to avoid the prick of our conscience. In the world of nature, a new power is awakened and begins to act. The furious activities of the wind defy all the false achievements, vanities and superfluities of daily life. The wind shows absolute disregard for the newspapers and magazines of which we are proud. The wind ruthlessly tears them into shreds, flinging them. This new world in sleep questions our knowledge and challenges our achievements and shows powerless we are in nature.

Wilbur’s naturalism is fully explicit here when mocks at the collective knowledge of human existence and renders it a waste in front of the mystical and religious consciousness, which should be the ultimate aim of our life.

Corruption of Media

And the wind rises. The wind rises and bowls

The day’s litter of news in the alleys. Trash

Tears itself on the railings,

Soars and falls with a soft crash,
The winds rise and hurl the newspapers into the streets. Newspapers become insignificant and before the power of nature. Nature is truth and media is corruption and falsehood. When falsehood strikes against truth, it perishes. The same is the case with the newspapers, they are torn apart by the winds and battered against the surfaces and the newspapers are unable to defend themselves, because they are corrupt and strengthless. Thus the winds reject all the media. They fly like uncontrolled flight.
Vanities and Real Character

The flying newspapers reach the park where we find plenty of human beings who have been symbolized here as the statue and the winds slap the newspapers on the face of the statue, as the poet says,
Unruly flights

Scamper the park, and taking a statue for dead

Strike at the positive eyes,

Batter and flap the stolid head

And scratch the noble name. In empty lots

Our journals spiral in a fierce noyade
Statues are motionless symbols of human vanity. The wind attacks the statue and slaps their faces. Here lies a lesson for man that decline is our ultimate fate. Greatness is to sought in character, not in status otherwise they will be attacked by nature. Characters, good behavior, attitude and action will keep us alive even after death. Weather and winds demolish constantly. They don’t accept our standard of greatness and reputation. Greatness lies in character and morality rather than in actual appearances and motionless outlook.
Immortality of Human Existence

In empty spaces, newspapers gather our ideas, notions and general facts into the blank spaces. All the things in columns are meaningless. All the natural elements are cursing human beings. The law of nature is that we are mortals. Immortality is not for publicity. To whom are we propagating that we are immortal and after all why? We are violating the laws of nature. Night is always heavy on mortals if there is no good in us. We fear darkness as suggested in the following line:
After the last bulletins the windows darken
We are mortal. That is truth and reality. We must accept reality and modern world is the world of appearances. We even try to present realities as appearances.

Insignificance of Newspapers

Newspapers are important in our life, but the poet challenges their importance. The poet discusses that there is no point of printing the papers because a lot of energy is consumed and wasted in their production, as their ultimate goal is destruction. The newspapers go waste. They lack the universality of literary taste. Works of literature abide even today after many centuries. Shakespeare’s Dramas, Milton’s poetry and Jane Austen or Dickens’ novels are afresh even after centuries. The only reason being they were mostly written for public awareness or societal change and development. They are universal, but the newspapers are insignificant because their basic aim is propagation, instigation, plot mongering and rigging. They are insignificant; therefore, they are tossed about in the dirty places of town.
‘Wilbur is a rebel’
This is an apt and just assessment of Tony Heywood. Wilbur’s subjective bent is that he challenges the established norms. Here again, he satirizes the newspapers. But he also discusses that change is the spice of life otherwise, something significant today will become insignificant tomorrow. If a proper charm is not maintained in the quality of a commodity, its value diminishes. This is what we can say about After The Last Bulletins in economic terms. However, the poem is a good example of modern poetry and perfect representative of Wilbur’s subject matter and technique. His imagery is unique and striking. The mundane topic of newspapers, exploited for serious purpose is the ample proof of Wilbur’s genius in this poem.


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