Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s poem, “Illusion,” extensively poses philosophical and metaphysical uncertainties pertaining to the perception and distinction between reality and actuality.
Wilcox takes a very original and abstract approach in utilizing hypothetical dialogue with a superior spiritual figure. This unique element vastly broadens the reader’s perspective and opinions of its literary value. Wilcox’s style also greatly opens a door for a wide variety of personal interpretations and metaphorical intentions. This creative approach is appropriately complimented and enhanced by the visual and concrete description used in the opening line of the first stanza.
The line, “God and I in space alone,” does not necessarily paint a portrait of one specific location, rather allows the reader to envision and create a setting of their desire. This opening line succeeds immediately at closely drawing the reader’s mind and attention into the poem, as if being a truism. When reading Wilcox’s poem, metaphorical reference and philosophical contemplation occur multiple times. For instance, in the opening stanza of the poem, there is an instant establishment of spiritual content and philosophical questioning. Wilcox writes:And “Where are the people, O Lord,” I said,“The earth below and the sky o’erheadAnd the dead whom once I knew?”Wilcox is definitely discussing a metaphorical meaning in this stanza when she comments to God and illustrates their solitude. This could possibly be insinuating that her personal gained knowledge of life is all that she has ever known to be true.
However, it appears that she is strongly hinting and expressing her solitude and uncertainty that has become a reality and newly found realization. In a sense, everything that she had once thought to be true was now in question of relative certainty. This is where the philosophical reference and questioning begins to factor. The second stanza of the poem greatly supports the philosophical interpretation of the work. Perhaps the most complex and incomprehensible issues of philosophy are posed to the reader here. The relativity of human existence, human essence, universal truth, and spiritual belief are possible interpretations of Wilcox’s figurative conversation.
For example, in stanza two, God replies to her curiosity by saying:“That was a dream,” God smiled and said: “A dream that seemed to be true. There were no people living or dead,There was no earth and sky overhead- There was only myself and you. ”Philosophy and understanding reality could strongly have been intended for the reader. However, there lies a sense of religious commitment and faithfulness to God possibly being displayed. The philosophical aspect would point to spiritual uncertainty and skepticism of God. On the other hand, if intentions of spiritual faith and believed spiritual existence are meant, than the message implied is one of Buddhist like stature.
Buddhism relies primarily on becoming one with you and God, leaving all outside distractions irrelevant. The final two stanzas are vastly more difficult to pinpoint a common grounds for meaning. The first two stanzas created a situation of belief and uncertain ponder, while the latter two almost appear to invoke complete contradiction. A sense of God conversing absolute self-praise is conveyed quite clearly. Wilcox creates an image of God looking down upon his creations and the foolish believed truths possessed. In taking another path of the content interpretation, one could deduce that this conversation is purely hypothetical and holds no spiritual meaning, other than that of which the author adopted.
There are implications that could be viewed as the poem being one uncertain self-struggle to determine the meaning and essence of unknown issues in life. She speaks of having no fear in meeting man’s creator. She states that she is in fact a sinner and knows full well, yet continues by questioning the superior God of his word and promises, referring to the existence of heaven and hell. However, even with the first three stanzas bearing importance of meaning, the fourth and final stanza serves to be a climax and contradiction of the remaining stanzas.
For example, God says in response to the questioning of the narrator:“Nay! Those were but dreams,” the great God said; “Dreams that have ceased to be. There are no such things as fear, or sin;There is no you-you never have been- There is nothing at all but me!”God is apparently saying here that there are no absolute and universal truths among mortals. He extends as far as to declare himself as the only thing that exists in truth. This final stanza created two thoughts of interpretation and meaning as a reader. First, Wilcox could be stating a philosophical point dealing with life being nothing more than one large continues dream of a God. That is, we are nothing but actors in a constant play or dream of one superior being.
That said, a sense of nothingness is relayed in that everything is an act of illusion and not reality. The second interpretation being that the conversation is between the narrator and her subconscious thoughts. Possibly implying that each individual’s thoughts and physical being are the God. If that were the case then the narrator comes to a realization that self worth and self based principles, free of societal tutelage, are the only aspects that we should take notice. Meaning that everyone and everything around us should not influence our thoughts and beliefs. Implying in a sense that we as individuals should only exist to be existent in ourselves, as well as the outside distractions of society remain invisible amongst the self.