B. 1921 D. 2017
Not a graceful mind... a mind of grace, an altogether different and higher thing - Theodore Roethke
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About Richard Wilbur
Richard Wilbur (1921 – 2017) is perhaps best known as the second person to hold the position of US Poet Laureate (1987-88), and was also the recipient of laurels including the Pulitzer Prize (twice), the Bollingen Prize, the National Book Award and the Chevalier, Ordre National des Palmes Academiques. His Collected Poems, spanning sixty years, appeared in 2004, and he was also the author of prose pieces and children’s poems, a translator of Racine and Moliere, and Bernstein’s librettist for the musical version of Voltaire’s Candide.
His formal mastery is widely acknowledged; Slate describes him as “the author of a half-dozen of the most perfectly made poems of the 20th century”, while Anthony Hecht points to his “superb ear (unequalled, I think, in the work of any poet now writing in English) for stately measure, cadences of a slow, processional grandeur, and rich, ceremonial orchestration”. These formal effects are made resounding in his rich and authoritative voice.
A Wilbur poem is written to resonate with universal experience – he writes that “the poet speaks not of peculiar and personal things, but of what in himself is most common, most anonymous, most fundamental, most true of all men.” So, in ‘A Barred Owl’, “the wakened child” from the first stanza who is scared by the eponymous bird becomes, in the second stanza, “a small child” as the poem moves into a universal sense from the owl’s call. Simultaneously, the poem’s awareness of the owl moves from the ominous cry to both a domesticated, safer interpretation and an admission of the darker, natural violence.
Whether it is nature, as here, or in ‘Mayflies’, or in Wilbur’s observations of town life and recollections of childhood, it is this universal kernel of an experience that he aims to tease out. ‘Transit’, for example, finds the poet stunned by a moment of beauty as a woman leaves her home, and, wishing that moment frozen, finds his surroundings, buildings, even the sun collaborating in that wish. His openness to the things of the world is best expressed in his own description of what he might be (from ‘Mayflies’): “one whose task is joyfully to see”.
Richard's recording was made on 11 June 2001 in Amherst, Massachusetts, and was produced by Bart Feller.
Books by Richard Wilbur
The Beautiful Changes, and Other Poems
Ceremony, and Other Poems
Things of This World
Advice to a Prophet, and Other Poems
Walking to Sleep: New Poems and Translations
The Mind-Reader: New Poems
New and Collected Poems
Mayflies: New Poems and Translations
Collected Poems, 1943–2004
Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative ArtsPrize website
Poetry Society of America Millay AwardPrize website
National Book Award for Poetry - for Things of this World
Pulitzer Prize for Poetry - for Things of This WorldPrize website
Guggenheim FellowshipPrize website
Bollingen Prize for PoetryPrize website
Shelley Memorial AwardPrize website
Drama Desk Special Award - for translation of The MisanthropePrize website
United States Poet LaureatePrize website
Pulitzer Prize for Poetry - for New and Collected PoemsPrize website
St. Louis Literary Award from the Saint Louis University Library AssociatesPrize website
American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal in PoetryPrize website
Edward MacDowell MedalPrize website
PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for TranslationPrize website
Frost MedalPrize website
Wallace Stevens AwardPrize website
Ruth Lilly Poetry PrizePrize website