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Richard Wilbur

1921–2017

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 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 died on October 15, 2017, in Belmont, 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)

Richard Wilbur

By This Poet

9

The Prisoner of Zenda

At the end a
"The Prisoner of Zenda,"
The King being out of danger,
Stewart Granger
(As Rudolph Rassendyll)
Must swallow a bitter pill
By renouncing his co-star,
Deborah Kerr.

It would be poor behavia
In him and in Princess Flavia
Were they to put their own
Concerns before those of the Throne.
Deborah Kerr must wed
The King instead.

Rassendyll turns to go.
Must it be so?
Why can't they have their cake
And eat it, for heaven's sake?
Please let them have it both ways,
The audience prays.
And yet it is hard to quarrel
With a plot so moral.

One redeeming factor,
However, is that the actor
Who plays the once-dissolute King
(Who has learned through suffering
Not to drink or be mean
To his future Queen),
Far from being a stranger,
Is also Stewart Granger.

June Light

Your voice, with clear location of June days,
Called me outside the window.  You were there,
Light yet composed, as in the just soft stare
Of uncontested summer all things raise
Plainly their seeming into seamless air.

Then your love looked as simple and entire
As that picked pear you tossed me, and your face
As legible as pearskin's fleck and trace,
Which promise always wine, by mottled fire
More fatal fleshed than ever human grace.

And your gay gift—Oh when I saw it fall
Into my hands, through all that naïve light,
It seemed as blessed with truth and new delight
As must have been the first great gift of all.

The House

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 winds that ruffle the surrounding firs.

Is she now there, wherever there may be?
Only a foolish man would hope to find
That haven fashioned by her dreaming mind.
Night after night, my love, I put to sea.

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