March 1, 2013

Richard Wilbur

I like this quote from poet Richard Wilbur which I think is about one reason that many of us write.

"I would feel dead if I didn't have the ability periodically to put my world in order with a poem. I think to be inarticulate is a great suffering, and is especially so to anyone who has a certain knack for poetry."

Richard Wilbur was born on this day, March 1, in New York City in 1921. His family included editors and journalists and he may have followed that career, but career decision were put off to serve in the infantry in World War II.

He did not write the soldier and battle poems that might have come from that experience. Instead, he wrote about the solitary, lonelier times of war. He said that he read Edgar Allan Poe in the trenches, and was more likely to write about a night spent peeling potatoes in the Army kitchen than about what it felt like to be on the front line.

His first book of poems, The Beautiful Changes and Other Poems was published in 1947.

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. A Chancellor Emeritus of The Academy of American Poets, Wilbur currently lives in Cummington, Massachusetts.

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.


It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

See the complete poem and hear it read by the author at

Collected Poems 1943-2004

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