Biography of Richard Wilbur
Richard Purdy Wilbur is an American poet and literary translator. He was appointed the second Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1987, and twice received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, in 1957 and again in 1989.
Wilbur was born in New York City and grew up in North Caldwell, New Jersey. He graduated from Montclair High School in 1938, having worked on the school newspaper as a student there. He graduated from Amherst College in 1942 and then served in the United States Army from 1943 to 1945 during World War II. After the Army and graduate school at Harvard University, Wilbur taught at Wesleyan University for two decades and at Smith College for another decade. At Wesleyan, he was instrumental in founding the award-winning poetry series of the University Press. He received two Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry and, as of 2011, teaches at Amherst College. He is also on the editorial board of the literary magazine The Common, based at Amherst College. He married Charlotte Hayes Ward in 1942 after his graduation from Amherst; she was a student at nearby Smith College.
When only 8 years old, Wilbur published his first poem in John Martin's Magazine. His first book, The Beautiful Changes and Other Poems, appeared in 1947. Since then he has published several volumes of poetry, including New and Collected Poems (Faber, 1989). Wilbur is also a translator, specializing in the 17th century French comedies of Molière and the dramas of Jean Racine. His translation of Tartuffe has become the standard English version of the play, and has been presented on television twice (a 1978 production is available on DVD.)
Continuing the tradition of Robert Frost and W. H. Auden, Wilbur's poetry finds illumination in everyday experiences. Less well-known is Wilbur's foray into lyric writing. He provided lyrics to several songs in Leonard Bernstein's 1956 musical, Candide, including the famous "Glitter and Be Gay" and "Make Our Garden Grow." He has also produced several unpublished works such as "The Wing" and "To Beatrice".
His honors include the 1983 Drama Desk Special Award for his translation of The Misanthrope, the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the National Book Award, both in 1957, the Edna St Vincent Millay award, the Bollingen Prize, and the Chevalier, Ordre National des Palmes Académiques. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1959. In 1987 Wilbur became the second poet, after Robert Penn Warren, to be named U.S. Poet Laureate after the position's title was changed from Poetry Consultant. In 1989 he won a second Pulitzer, this one for his New and Collected Poems. On October 14, 1994, he received the National Medal of Arts from President Clinton. In 2006, Wilbur won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. In 2010 he won the National Translation Award for the translation of The Theatre of Illusion by Pierre Corneille.
Richard Wilbur's Works:
Translated from Molière
The Misanthrope (1955/1666)
The School for Wives (1971/1662)
The Learned Ladies (1978/1672)
School for Husbands (1992/1661)
The Imaginary Cuckold, or Sganarelle (1993/1660)
The Bungler (2000/1655)
Don Juan (2001/1665)
Lovers' Quarrels (2009/1656)
From Jean Racine
The Suitors (2001/1668)
From Pierre Corneille
The Theatre of Illusion (2007/1636)
Le Cid (2009/1636)
The Liar (2009/1643)
The Beautiful Changes, and Other Poems (1947)
Ceremony, and Other Poems (1950)
A Bestiary (1955)
Things of This World (Harcourt, 1956) Pulitzer Prize for Poetry 1957 National Book Award 1957
Advice to a Prophet, and Other Poems (1961)
Walking to Sleep: New Poems and Translations (1969)
The Mind-Reader: New Poems (1976)
New and Collected Poems (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988) Pulitzer Prize for Poetry 1989
Mayflies: New Poems and Translations (2000)
Collected Poems, 1943–2004 (2004)
Responses: Prose Pieces, 1953–1976 (Harcourt, 1976)
The Catbird's Song: Prose Pieces, 1963–1995 (Harcourt, 1997)
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Richard Wilbur Poems
Boy at the Window
Seeing the snowman standing all alone In dusk and cold is more than he can bear. The small boy weeps to hear the wind prepare A night of gnashings and enormous moan.
Securely sunning in a forest glade, A mild, well-meaning snake Approved the adaptations he had made For safety’s sake.
Love Calls Us To The Things Of This Worl...
The eyes open to a cry of pulleys, And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul Hangs for a moment bodiless and
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.
Right down the shocked street with a siren-blast That sends all else skittering to the curb,
The Beautiful Changes
One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides The Queen Anne's Lace lying like lilies On water; it glides So from the walker, it turns
Advice to a Prophet
When you come, as you soon must, to the streets of our city, Mad-eyed from stating the obvious, Not proclaiming our fall but begging us In God's name to have self-pity,
I read how Quixote in his random ride Came to a crossing once, and lest he lose The purity of chance, would not decide
A ball will bounce; but less and less. It's not A light-hearted thing, resents its own resilience. Falling is what it loves, and the earth falls So in our hearts from brilliance,
St. John tells how, at Cana's wedding feast, The water-pots poured wine in such amount That by his sober count There were a hundred gallons at the least.
I. Kick at the rock, Sam Johnson, break your bones: But cloudy, cloudy is the stuff of stones.
The good gray guardians of art Patrol the halls on spongy shoes, Impartially protective, though Perhaps suspicious of Toulouse.
Orchard Trees, January
It's not the case, though some might wish it so Who from a window watch the blizzard blow White riot through their branches vague and stark,
For K.R. on her Sixtieth Birthday
Blow out the candles of your cake. They will not leave you in the dark, Who round with grace this dusky arc Of the grand tour which souls must take.
The horse beneath me seemed
To know what course to steer
Through the horror of snow I dreamed,
And so I had no fear,
Nor was I chilled to death
By the wind’s white shudders, thanks
To the veils of his patient breath
And the mist of sweat from his flanks.