Richard Wilbur 1921-2017
The title of this blog is from a line of a poem by Richard Wilbur. In the night sky of writers above me, Wilbur was not the north star, but he was in the constellation of the big dipper. Updike is dead, and now Wilbur, the novelist, and now the poet.
Richard Wilbur’s light will shine for generations. Learned, elegant, earthy, a lonely only child, he began writing poems when he was in the service “to put his world in order” when it was coming apart. He went all the way to the top floor of American literature, through Harvard, to two Pulitzer prizes. Poet Laureate of the United States in 1987. He dug into it–the world and its words–with grace. His poems exhibit the calm authority of a master.
It was not until World War II took me to Cassino, Anzio, and the Siegried Line that I began to versify in earnest. One does not use poetry for its major purposes, as a means of organizing oneself and the world, until one’s world somehow gets out of hand.
In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.
I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.
Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.
But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which
The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.
I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash
And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark
And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,
And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,
It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.
It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.