March 16: A Dispute Between Body and Worms

Worms are amazing. They break down dead things into nutrients for the living things. They’re the original recycling machines. Having the author of the fable use these little guys as a metaphor, do you think he’s praising the worms or disparaging them? What do you believe they represent? How does the imagery in the poem lend itself to your argument?

3 thoughts on “March 16: A Dispute Between Body and Worms

  1. I really enjoyed this poem. It’s thoughtful, and also funny as well. I think the worms represent death and the universal truth that, as Chesterton said, death is the only true democracy, since (as the worms point out) they eat kings and peasants indiscriminately. I think it’s also significant that the dead woman’s character arc consists in her reconciling with the worms on their terms rather than hers. It suggests that humanity does not after all have the highest status, and that even the worms themselves have an important, one might even say central, place in the hierarchy of creation. The poet succeeds in elevating things ordinarily considered low and base — worms, dirt, soil, rot, decay — to an almost transcendent level in the ultimate scheme of God’s plan for humanity, all the while never losing a clear and distinct sense of their earthiness and animality.

    This also seems, to me at any rate, an excellent example of how these two seemingly contradictory ideas of being a creature of nature and “with the world” as Steel would say, and being a creature with one’s face to the heavens and one’s mind on spiritual things, can both be true at the same time without either orientation undermining the other.

  2. The worms represent nature as a whole and how nature has a great influence on humanity. As mentioned by the worms, they do not care the different between the King or a peasant and will eat the body just the same. Crude language like “beast” and “vermin” are not necessarily to denote evil, but to emphasize the misinterpretation of the worms by humans. Worms act almost as henchman for God, who much eat away at the body in order to unleash the soul. By the end, the female makes peace with her decomposition and with the worms, who ultimately symbolize the natural and inevitable death of all humans. The poem places great importance on the worms indifference toward both the woman’s class and beauty, sharing the ideas that your Earthly personality and body is completely detached from the soul and from God.

  3. I believe the worms represent nature and the circle of life. The author is neither praising, nor disparaging the worms. They have a job to do, one that few other animals would undertake, and they don’t care about life, beauty or riches. Those obstacles matter to people in life, however, these are unimportant to the worms. The worm’s carelessness of human feeling can be paralleled to human carelessness for worms in nature while they are alive. Worms are often seen as lowly and dirty bugs to be avoided. This reversal of power is evident in the way the worms devour the body.

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