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About this poet

Born in New York City on March 1, 1921, Richard Wilbur studied at Amherst College before serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. He later attended Harvard University.

His first book of poems, The Beautiful Changes and Other Poems (Reynal & Hitchcock) was published in 1947. Since then, he has published several books of poems, including Anterooms: New Poems and Translations (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010); Collected Poems, 1943-2004 (Harvest Books, 2004); Mayflies: New Poems and Translations (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000); New and Collected Poems (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988), which won the Pulitzer Prize; The Mind-Reader: New Poems (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976); Walking to Sleep: New Poems and Translations (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1969); Advice to a Prophet and Other Poems (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1961); Things of This World (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1956), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award; and Ceremony and Other Poems (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1950).

Wilbur has also published numerous translations of French plays—specifically those of the 17th century French dramatists Molière and Jean Racine—as well as poetry by Valéry, Villon, Baudelaire, Akhmatova, Brodsky, and others. Wilbur is also the author of several books for children and a few collections of prose pieces, and has edited such books as Poems of Shakespeare (1966) and The Complete Poems of Poe (1959).

About Wilbur's poems, one reviewer for The Washington Post said, "Throughout his career Wilbur has shown, within the compass of his classicism, enviable variety. His poems describe fountains and fire trucks, grasshoppers and toads, European cities and country pleasures. All of them are easy to read, while being suffused with an astonishing verbal music and a compacted thoughtfulness that invite sustained reflection."

Among his honors are the Wallace Stevens Award, the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry, the Frost Medal, the Gold Medal for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, two Bollingen Prizes, the T. S. Eliot Award, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, a Ford Foundation Award, two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Edna St. Vincent Millay Memorial Award, the Harriet Monroe Poetry Award, the National Arts Club medal of honor for literature, two PEN translation awards, the Prix de Rome Fellowship, and the Shelley Memorial Award. He was elected a chevalier of the Ordre des Palmes Académiques and is a former Poet Laureate of the United States.

Wilbur served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1961 to 1995. He currently lives in Cummington, Massachusetts.


Selected Bibliography 

Poems

Anterooms: New Poems and Translations (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010)
Collected Poems, 1943-2004 (Harvest Books, 2004)
Mayflies: New Poems and Translations (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000)
New and Collected Poems (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988)
The Mind-Reader: New Poems (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976)
Walking to Sleep: New Poems and Translations (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1969)
Advice to a Prophet and Other Poems (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1961)
Things of This World (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1956)
Ceremony and Other Poems (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1950)
The Beautiful Changes and Other Poems (Reynal & Hitchcock,1947)

 

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From the Image Archive

 

Advice to a Prophet

Richard Wilbur, 1921
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,

Spare us all word of the weapons, their force and range,
The long numbers that rocket the mind;
Our slow, unreckoning hearts will be left behind,
Unable to fear what is too strange.

Nor shall you scare us with talk of the death of the race.
How should we dream of this place without us?--
The sun mere fire, the leaves untroubled about us,
A stone look on the stone's face?

Speak of the world's own change. Though we cannot conceive
Of an undreamt thing, we know to our cost
How the dreamt cloud crumbles, the vines are blackened by frost,
How the view alters.  We could believe,

If you told us so, that the white-tailed deer will slip
Into perfect shade, grown perfectly shy,
The lark avoid the reaches of our eye,
The jack-pine lose its knuckled grip

On the cold ledge, and every torrent burn
As Xanthus once, its gliding trout
Stunned in a twinkling.  What should we be without
The dolphin's arc, the dove's return, 

These things in which we have seen ourselves and spoken?
Ask us, prophet, how we shall call
Our natures forth when that live tongue is all
Dispelled, that glass obscured or broken

In which we have said the rose of our love and the clean
Horse of our courage, in which beheld
The singing locust of the soul unshelled,
And all we mean or wish to mean.

Ask us, ask us whether with the worldless rose
Our hearts shall fail us; come demanding
Whether there shall be lofty or long standing
When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.

From Advice to a Prophet and Other Poems by Richard Wilbur, published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Copyright © 1961 by Richard Wilbur. Used with permission.

From Advice to a Prophet and Other Poems by Richard Wilbur, published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Copyright © 1961 by Richard Wilbur. Used with permission.

Richard Wilbur

Richard Wilbur

Born in New York City in 1921, Richard Wilbur is the author of numerous books of poetry and the recipient of the Wallace Stevens Award

by this poet

poem
Sometimes, on waking, she would close her eyes
For a last look at that white house she knew
In sleep alone, and held no title to,
And had not entered yet, for all her sighs.

What did she tell me of that house of hers?
White gatepost; terrace; fanlight of the door;
A widow's walk above the bouldered shore;
Salt
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“I trust your Garden was willing to die ...