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Richard Wilber
Posted by: ink ghost (192.168.128.---)
Date: October 31, 2006 03:43PM

Why have I not heard of him before now?

I’ve recently ordered several poetry book form an online store without knowing anything about them or their authors. For the most part they proved at best mildly attractive and entertaining, in a stagnate and sterile sort of way. “Collected Poems 1943-2004” By Richard Wilbur however, proved to be both hilarious and beautiful (not to be confused with hilariously beautiful but possibly with beautifully hilarious at such times as is appropriate) as well as worth the collective economic value (sum of prices) of all the books.

-Catching My Breath and Cutting The Fat-

This brings me (well near enough) to the questions at hand:

"Have you heard of him?" and (if so) "What do you think of him?"

-If You Have Not-
[] /> []


Magna res est vocis et silentii temperamentum

Re: Richard Wilber
Posted by: lg (Moderator)
Date: October 31, 2006 04:17PM

I had heard of him, but not payed much attention. A unique style to be sure, humorous and edgy. Here's a sample:

--Richard Wilbur

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,
Settles and is forgot.
It takes a sky-blue juggler with five red balls

To shake our gravity up. Whee, in the air
The balls roll around, wheel on his wheeling hands,
Learning the ways of lightness, alter to spheres
Grazing his finger ends,
Cling to their courses there,
Swinging a small heaven about his ears.

But a heaven is easier made of nothing at all
Than the earth regained, and still and sole within
The spin of worlds, with a gesture sure and noble
He reels that heaven in,
Landing it ball by ball,
And trades it all for a broom, a plate, a table.

Oh, on his toe the table is turning, the broom's
Balancing up on his nose, and the plate whirls
On the tip of the broom! Damn, what a show, we cry:
The boys stamp, and the girls
Shriek, and the drum booms
And all come down, and he bows and says good-bye.

If the juggler is tired now, if the broom stands
In the dust again, if the table starts to drop
Through the daily dark again, and though the plate
Lies flat on the table top,
For him we batter our hands
Who has won for once over the world's weight.

More of Wilbur's work can be found here: [] />


Re: Richard Wilber
Posted by: JohnnySansCulo (192.168.128.---)
Date: October 31, 2006 04:35PM

No I have not, but I only read comic books

Re: Richard Wilber
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: November 01, 2006 11:37AM

[] />
Richard Wakefield calls Wilbur's rhymes below 'opportunistic':

The Catch

From the dress-box's plashing tis-
Sue paper she pulls out her prize,
Dangling it to one side before my eyes
Like a weird sort of fish

That she has somehow hooked and gaffed
And on the dock-end holds in air---
Limp, corrugated, lank, a catch too rare
Not to be photographed.

I, in my chair, make shift to say
Some bright, discerning thing, and fail,
Proving once more the blindness of the male.
Annoyed, she stalks away

And then is back in half a minute,
Consulting now, not me at all
But the long mirror, mirror on the wall.
The dress, now that she's in it,

Has changed appreciably, and gains
By lacy shoes, a light perfume
Whose subtle field electrifies the room,
And two slim golden chains.

With a fierce frown and hard-pursed lips
She twists a little on her stem
To test the even swirling of the hem,
Smooths down the waist and hips,

Plucks at the shoulder-straps a bit,
Then turns around and looks behind,
Her face transfigured now by peace of mind.
There is no question---it

Is wholly charming, it is she,
As I belatedly remark
And may be hung now in the fragrant dark
Of her soft armory.

Does Wilbur successfully imitate Auden in the one below?

For W. H. Auden

Now I am surer where they were going,
The brakie loping the tops of the moving freight,
The beautiful girls in their outboard, waving to someone
As the stern dug in and the wake pleated the water,

The uniformed children led by a nun
Through the terminal's uproar, the clew-drawn scholar descending
The cast-iron stair of the stacks, shuffling his papers,
The Indians, two to a blanket, passing in darkness,

Also the German prisoner switching
His dusty neck as the truck backfired and started---
Of all these noted in stride and detained in memory
I now know better that they were going to die

Since you, who sustained the civil tongue
In a scattering time, and were poet of all our cities,
Have for all your clever difference quietly left us,
As we might have known that you would, by that common door.

Re: Richard Wilber
Posted by: lg (Moderator)
Date: November 01, 2006 11:28PM

I think "opportunistic" is a good word for his rhymes. And yes Auden, at least what little I've read of his work, does come to mind in the last one.


Re: Richard Wilber
Posted by: marian2 (192.168.128.---)
Date: November 02, 2006 04:10AM

I didn't think I knew him until I visited Les's Poemhunter link and found 'In the Smoking Car' which I've known 20 years or more. Then I discovered 'Shame' and 'First Snow in Alsace' are also in my collection. I like a few of his other poems on the Poemhunter site, but more don't srike a chord - perhaps they were written later in his life - I tend to be a bit traditionalist. I like The Juggler, and Boy in the Window, and Matthew VIII 28ff. In the latter I'm rather perplexed by the word properity - I think it may be a typo, but am not sure if it should be prosperity or property. The only other link to the poem also has properity. Has anyone got a book with it in, that they could check, please?

Rabbi, we Gadarenes
Are not ascetics; we are fond of wealth and possessions.
Love, as You call it, we obviate by means
Of the planned release of aggressions.

We have deep faith in properity.
Soon, it is hoped, we will reach our full potential.
In the light of our gross product, the practice of charity
Is palpably non-essential.

It is true that we go insane;
That for no good reason we are possessed by devils;
That we suffer, despite the amenities which obtain
At all but the lowest levels.

We shall not, however, resign
Our trust in the high-heaped table and the full trough.
If You cannot cure us without destroying our swine,
We had rather You shoved off.

Re: Richard Wilber
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: November 02, 2006 12:41PM

I was planning a trip to my local biblioteca later today, and I remember seeing a large tome of Wilbur's on the bottom shelf of the poetry section (and poetry is NOT found in the fiction stacks, for those who like to repeat that platitude), so I will check it out. I would think prosperity has to be correct, to rhyme with charity.

Re: Richard Wilber
Posted by: ink ghost (192.168.128.---)
Date: November 02, 2006 01:37PM

Sorry I don't have time to comment in full, but I'm on my way to work.
Yes marian, they seem to have forgotten the s, in the book it's prosperity.


Magna res est vocis et silentii temperamentum

Re: Richard Wilbur
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: November 02, 2006 05:45PM

Right. Other corrections:

The 'You' pronouns are not capitalized.

The book (Walking to Sleep - 1969) has inessential for non-essential.

For Gadarenes, see for example,

[] />
For Matthew VIII 28ff, the abbreviation ff likely means 'and what follows', not any other the others listed below:

[] />
Speaking of which, it sounds like it might lend itself to an abbreviated limerick (like Maine, pain gain would be ME, PE and GE), but would a reader, erm, swallow the logic of ending with ff + ap + sw for follows Apollo's and swallows?

Re: Richard Wilber
Posted by: marian2 (192.168.128.---)
Date: November 04, 2006 01:28PM

Thanks for the corrections ink ghost and Hugh - the ff abbreviation is the norm for 'and what follows' in a Biblical reference in the UK, often meaning 'all verses to the end of the chapter', so I understood that - though it is more usual to put Matthew 22 v28ff.

Re: Richard Wilber
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: November 06, 2006 11:49AM

Right, and the two-letter abbrevs won't work, since they would have to logically appear as double single letters. I.e. ff=follows, hh=hollows, ww=wallows.

See also Briton Riviere's Miracle of the Gadarene Swine"

[] />
"My name is legion" seemed to ring a bell with Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, but maybe I am misremembering something by Zelazny.

Re: Richard Wilber
Posted by: JohnnySansCulo (192.168.128.---)
Date: November 06, 2006 02:36PM

Zelazny: [] />
"We are Myria LeJean" is used to introduce this character in Terry Pratchett's Thief of Time. She is a manifestation of an auditor, a being which will be destroyed if it shows any sign of individuality. "Myria" is easily associated with "myriad", and "LeJean" with "legion", alluding to this bible passage.

Re: Richard Wilber
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: November 21, 2006 02:50PM

This one reminds me of Blake's clod & pebble:

Two Voices in a Meadow

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 crib 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.

Re: Richard Wilber
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: November 21, 2006 03:06PM

Nice finish here:

A Summer Morning

Her young employers, having got in late
From seeing friends in town
And scraped the right front fender on the gate,
Will not, the cook expects, be coming down.

She makes a quiet breakfast for herself.
The coffee-pot is bright,
The jelly where it should be on the shelf.
She breaks an egg into the morning light,

Then, with the bread-knife lifted, stands and hears
The sweet efficient sounds
Of thrush and catbird, and the snip of shears
Where, in the terraced backward of the grounds,

A gardener works before the heat of day.
He straightens for a view
Of the big house ascending stony-gray
Out of his beds mosaic with the dew.

His young employers having got in late,
He and the cook alone
Receive the morning on their old estate,
Possessing what the owners can but own.

Re: Richard Wilber
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: November 22, 2006 11:28AM

An ode to STDs?

Pangloss's Song - A Comic Opera Lyric

Dear boy, you will not hear me speak
With sorrow or with rancor
Of what has paled my rosy cheek
And blasted it with canker;
'Twas Love, great Love, that did the deed,
Through Nature's gentle laws,
And how should ill effects proceed
From so divine a cause?

Sweet honey comes from bees that sting,
As you are well aware;
To one adept in reasoning,
Whatever pains disease may bring
Are but the tangy seasoning
To Love's delicious fare.

Columbus and his men, they say,
Conveyed the virus hither,
Whereby my features rot away
And vital powers wither;
Yet had they not traversed the seas
And come infected back,
Why, think of all the luxuries
That modern life would lack!

All bitter things conduce to sweet,
As this example shows;
Without the little spirochete,
We'd have no chocolate to eat
Nor would tobacco's fragrance greet
The European nose.

Each nation guards its native land
With cannon and with sentry,
Inspectors look for contraband
At every point of entry,
Yet nothing can prevent the spread
Of Love's divine disease;
It rounds the world from bed to bed
As pretty as you please.

Men worship Venus everywhere,
As may be plainly seen;
Her decorations which I bear
Are nobler than the Croix de Guerre,
And gained in service of our fair
And universal Queen.

Re: Richard Wilber
Posted by: marian2 (192.168.128.---)
Date: November 24, 2006 03:54AM

For ignoramuses like me, Panggloss was a character in Candide whose philosophy - much stated - was 'there is no effect without a cause'. And Wilbur's poem is terrific - thanks for posting it, Hugh - any idea when it was composed - I'd like to know what the 'awareness' of the ordinary people was at the time - ie was it written before or after the Pill and STDs being widely discussed

Re: Richard Wilber
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: November 24, 2006 12:35PM

Looks like 1956:


Re: Richard Wilber
Posted by: JohnnySansCulo (192.168.128.---)
Date: November 24, 2006 01:46PM

I saw it on Broadway in 1973 or 74

Re: Richard Wilber
Posted by: marian2 (192.168.128.---)
Date: November 28, 2006 01:19PM

Thank you, both.

Re: Richard Wilber
Posted by: lg (Moderator)
Date: November 28, 2006 03:43PM

I'd like to know what the 'awareness' of the ordinary people was at the time -

Ordinary people of the mid-1950's certainly new about STD's, but only us bohemians had the fortitude to write about them.


Re: Richard Wilber
Posted by: petersz (69.181.22.---)
Date: November 17, 2008 10:50PM

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