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.
–Richard Wilbur

                             The Writer

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.

MIT Museum


The MIT Museum on Mass Ave in Cambridge captures a bit of the genius, goodness, humane intentions, and playfulness of MIT. In addition to exhibits on ocean engineering, holography and robotics, there is a display of blown-glass objects and examples of the engineering creations of Arthur Ganson.


Structural engineering art by Arthur Ganson has been exhibited at the MIT Museum since 1995.

A note on the exhibit says that Gannon uses the principles of mechanics to create “gestures”–physical actions that express feelings and ideas. But he wants viewers to make their own meanings. “With all of these pieces,” he says, you don’t have to know anything. Everything you feel about them is true–for you.”

Tom Petty End of the Line

Don Williams 1939-2017 Good Ol’ Boys

Of all his quiet, thoughtful country-pop songs, this is my favorite. The place that formed you never leaves you. Anybody who writes about wind in the trees, and names the trees–even with an inconvenient spacing word to make the line right–is alright with me.

Those Williams boys, they still mean a lot to me, Hank and Tennessee.  Every time I hear that line it makes me smile.

The radio light by his bed, John R from Nashville and Wolfman Jack from Chicago keeping him company, Thomas Wolfe whispering in his head.

A literate little boy who made a living and became famous writing and singing evening songs.



The Wisdom of Money by Pascal Bruckner

French philosopher Pascal Bruckner’s essay on money wends around through the roots of weath and our complex and often contradictory relationship with it. Bruckner shows us personal and cultural attitudes about the value and danger of money. The section on gift-giving and Christmas reminds me of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Gifts essay.

Money implies, first of all, confidence…It is not only a unit of exchange and receptacle of value, but above all a barometer of our desires…To talk about money is always to talk about ourselves. p. 3

In France, one has to seem humble to avoid arousing the envy of the disadvantaged. In the United States, wealth is flaunted…In America, the taboo on sex is predominant, in France it is the taboo on money. These two countries, incarnate in a chemically pure state, would be diametrically opposed archetypes. p. 42

America is in danger of reliving, in the capitalist mode, Europe’s experience of feudalism, the financial barons being the new aristocrats, without manners or blue blood…the American educational and health-care systems, which are expensive and easily accessible only to the wealthiest, and the incestuous proximity of Wall Street to Congress and the White House constitute a scandal and an enigma. p. 70

Giving should be taught like table manners and politeness. A gift has nothing to do with its price; it consists entirely in the intention and beauty of the act of giving it. No matter how humble it may be, it is like an emissary from the giver and bears his imprint on it.  p. 217

The genius of a great culture is primarily and above all the development of beauty, the feeling of an endless exuberance from which we cannot escape without suffering grave damage. That is the secret of a good life: Never run out of things to wonder at.
p. 134

Just Once by Anne Sexton

Just Once

Just once I knew what life was for.
In Boston, quite suddenly, I understood;
walked there along the Charles River,
watched the lights copying themselves,
all neoned and strobe-hearted, opening
their mouths as wide as opera singers;
counted the stars, my little campaigners,
my scar daisies, and knew that I walked my love
on the night green side of it and cried
my heart to the eastbound cars and cried
my heart to the westbound cars and took
my truth across a small humped bridge
and hurried my truth, the charm of it, home
and hoarded these constants into morning
only to find them gone.


The same points of historical reference, and the same spirit of change and social evolution, return in variations in the museums and faces of Montreal. The Archeology and History museum is a place to hear those themes of native inhabitation, French fur trade activity, immigrant jostling, war and the aftermaths, industrial development, forward-looking optimism . The 1967 Expo  and its exhibits of progress, international cooperation and change, still throw bright light on this progressive city.

The Museum of Fine Arts features two special shows. Revolution shows the new music, consumption patterns, social assumptions and humane ideas that blossomed in the late 60’s.  There was Woodstock, The Beatles, Vietnam and the protests that followed from it, convenient and fast food, the age of television, etc. Montreal is still reacting to and recovering from the 60’s and the Expo that showcased so much of it there.

It’s probably past time for young people of North America to let their hair down again, and try to bring in the Age of Aquarius, with sympathy and love abounding.

Love is Love is an admission by Barak Obama in support of same-sex marriage and the title of the second special exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts.

Installations at the Museum of Contemporary Art invite visitors to enter and explore Olafur Eliasson’s simple sensory playgrounds. Water, light, images, recorded and visual media, are offered in stark and dramatic interactive modules.

Just outside the front door of the Museum of Contemporary Art, the city made room for its annual jazz festival. Right in the urban center, music and happy crowds appeared.

I was surprised by the prairie and western feel of Montreal, connecting more with the great plains in the center of the continent than with American-urban-east, just to the south.


Image result for bubbles and small fish


This borrowed lake,
still as a bored counselor,
barely returns a reaction
to my tone and twitch.

Green minnows of mind
rest in grooves of gold sand.
Opaque tails flutter, lips pop
leisurely, gills wave like red
threaded dragon wings.

Simple thoughts are small fish,
resting until, up they go,
like their train of bubbles,
rising to disappear in air.

Planting a Sequoia by Dana Gioia


My family spent a week in California, camping in a vintage Volkswagen. On two nights we searched past dark for a campground. We walked under the giant trees in the national parks, drove into Yosemite Valley on a bright morning, and one evening stood at Glacier Point where John Muir stood with Teddy Roosevelt.

Planting a Sequoia by Dana Gioia

All afternoon my brothers and I have worked in the orchard,
Digging this hole, laying you into it, carefully packing the soil.
Rain blackened the horizon, but cold winds kept it over the Pacific,
And the sky above us stayed the dull gray
Of an old year coming to an end.

In Sicily a father plants a tree to celebrate his first son’s birth–
An olive or a fig tree–a sign that the earth has one more life to bear.
I would have done the same, proudly laying new stock into my father’s orchard,
A green sapling rising among the twisted apple boughs,
A promise of new fruit in other autumns.

But today we kneel in the cold planting you, our native giant,
Defying the practical custom of our fathers,
Wrapping in your roots a lock of hair, a piece of an infant’s birth cord,
All that remains above earth of a first-born son,
A few stray atoms brought back to the elements.

We will give you what we can — our labor and our soil,
Water drawn from the earth when the skies fail,
Nights scented with the ocean fog, days softened by the circuit of bees.
We plant you in the corner of the grove, bathed in western light,
A slender shoot against the sunset.

And when our family is no more, all of his unborn brothers dead,
Every niece and nephew scattered, the house torn down,
His mother’s beauty ashes in the air,
I want you to stand among strangers, all young and ephemeral to you,
Silently keeping the secret of your birth.


The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

Reading this book will change the way you see trees. In folktales and childhood stories, sometimes trees are characters with personalities and relationships, not merely commodities for the mill. Wohlleben tells a story of science that enchants our giant neighbors again.

It turns out that as trees breathe,  they communicate with each other, turn their arms to the rain, resist threats, and face danger together. Trees shelter their young, hold hands (sort of) and are faithful to fallen neighbors, feeding the stumps of missing friends with their own roots. Trees exhibit individual differences, adapt to the seasons and to local environments, share resources and protect their own kind.

This is another new nature book in which a scientist/naturalist presents her/his biology and chemistry results, from years of careful observation and sympathetic analysis, giving his subjects the gift of deep thought and imaginative narration. Wohlleben describes our neighbors, the trees, not as “other” but as fellow, related creatures of earth. In their apparent impassive stillness, trees alter our human sense of time and of the span of generations. They might even stun us, and quiet us, into a new kind of humility and wonder.