Richard Wilbur

Richard Wilbur Biography

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.

Biography

Early years

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.

Career

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 He has also produced several unpublished works such as "The Wing" and "To Beatrice".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.

The Best Poem Of Richard Wilbur

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.
His tearful sight can hardly reach to where
The pale-faced figure with bitumen eyes
Returns him such a God-forsaken stare
As outcast Adam gave to paradise.

The man of snow is, nonetheless, content,
Having no wish to go inside and die.
Still, he is moved to see the youngster cry.
Though frozen water is his element,
He melts enough to drop from one soft eye
A trickle of the purest rain, a tear
For the child at the bright pane surrounded by
Such warmth, such light, such love, and so much fear.

Richard Wilbur Comments

Saiom Shriver 31 March 2012

The following is my favorite Richard Wilbur poem. It awakened my love of poetry, especially the first stanza. Many of us would be grateful if you added it to your Wilbur collection. Two Voices in a Meadow – Richard Wilbur A Milkweed Anonymous as cherubs Over the crib of God, White seeds are floating Out of my burst pod. What power had I Before I learned to yield? Shatter me, great wind: I shall possess the field A Stone As casual as cow-dung Under the rib of God, I lie where chance would have me, Up to the ears in sod. Why should I move? To move Befits a light desire. The sill of heaven would founder, Did such as I aspire.

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Frank Avon 28 October 2014

I wish you could include 'Digging for China' in your PH list. It's delightful for children, humorous for adults, and clever for poets themselves. It pairs well with Elizabeth Bishop's fish, as unlike as they are (as one of my students pointed out to me): if you read them both, you'll see why. Regrettably it makes reference to 'a coolie, ' which in the political correctness of our day would make it highly objectionable, but one should remember the era in which it was wirtten (1956) . Here are its lush climactic lines: '... the earth went round / And showed me silver barns, the fields dozing / In palls of brightness, patens growing and gone / In the tides of leaves, and the whole sky china blue.' But you have to read to the last line to get the surprise and the witty point of the poem.

5 7 Reply
Rick Telander 30 June 2015

I have long had Wilbur's poem, ``Man Running, '' on my home office bulletin board. When I first read it in the NewYorker Magazine, it gave me shivers. How did Wilbur know exactly how I felt when a man was on the run, a bad man, most certainly, pursued by hounds and the law and uniformed men with guns, and my hopes were all with the man running? Because we have ``fidelity to childhood games/And outlaws of romance, We darkly cheer him, whether or not/ He robbed that store, or bank, or fired that shot/And wish him, guiltily, a sporting chance.'' When Richard Matt and David Sweat, convicted murderers, escaped from Dannemora, NY Penitentiary and were on the run for those three weeks in June, just ended, I was hoping dimly and remotely for their success. Perhaps, I dreamed, they would alight after their frenzied, tortuous run on a foreign, tropical beach and quietly live out their days in small victory against the man But Matt was killed by searchers, and Sweat was shot and captured. They were dangerous, guilty cons, but I still learned the news of their failure with a sigh. How did Wilbur know this side of us, we the civilized? Does he know how modern, how true his poem is? And not just for me, but for others I have spoken with and feel the same. In my dreams I often was running, running, from something gaining on me, in terror, heart-racing, alive and primal. No doubt it's because I, like Wilbur's narrator, ``Remembered from the day/ When we descended from the trees/Into the shadow of our enemies/Not lords of nature yet, but naked prey.'' Still makes me shiver. Makes me think. What a poet. - Rick Telander

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Richard Foster 12 December 2020

This was once a good site. What happened Wilbur deserves better.

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John Beaton 01 September 2018

Richard Wilbur, for me, was an exemplar. I read his work and choked up. His sentiments were gracefully constrained, passionate all the same, and often overwhelmingly beautiful (e.g. his anthem for life-long love, For C) , but the craft was dazzling. Mayflies inspired me in form as well as in image. I met him once. He was a fine gentleman.

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Ruth Stalker 16 November 2017

Where is On the Marginal Way by Richard Wilbur?

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Nancy Howell 20 August 2015

Where is Seed Leaves by Richard Wilbur?

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Mandy Gair 15 August 2015

I would love to see Mind included in Wilbur's list. Such a masterful combination of word play cleverness and artistry, as is most of his work. Mind Mind in its purest play is like some bat That beats about in caverns all alone, Contriving by a kind of senseless wit Not to conclude against a wall of stone. It has no need to falter or explore; Darkly it knows what obstacles are there, And so may weave and flitter, dip and soar In perfect courses through the blackest air. And has this simile a like perfection? The mind is like a bat. Precisely. Save That in the very happiest of intellection A graceful error may correct the cave.

8 4 Reply

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