He made comely poems.

I was so sorry to hear a couple of weeks after the event that the poet Richard Wilbur had fallen asleep in death. It’s interesting to read about the ambivalence within the community of literary critics regarding his work throughout his career and now at his passing.

The New York Times quotes its own reviewer David Orr who mused that “Mr. Wilbur had ‘spent most of his career being alternately praised and condemned for the same three things’ — for his formal virtuosity; for his being, ‘depending on your preference, courtly or cautious, civilized or old-fashioned, reasonable or kind of dull’; and finally for his resisting a tendency in American poetry toward ‘conspicuous self-dramatization.’”

Might it be that one’s opinion about Wilbur’s poetry has something to do with whether you appreciate his perspective on things? If when you read his poems you find they quicken your own love for life and the cosmos? In another quote from the New York Times: “’I feel that the universe is full of glorious energy,’ he said in an interview with The Paris Review, ‘that the energy tends to take pattern and shape, and that the ultimate character of things is comely and good.'” My favorite not-so-recent article on Wilbur draws attention to his Christian vision and is found in First Things.

Over the life of my blog many of Wilbur’s poems have shown up here — which you might find by putting his name in the search box on the right —  and I’ve been wanting to post his poem “Worlds” for a year or more now. I first read it when David Bentley Hart’s book The Experience of God was fresher in my mind, and I had some brilliant idea that linked the two philosophers… that thought has dimmed to the vanishing point. Now I offer the poem as a picture of two ways of looking at the world, represented by Alexander the Great and Isaac Newton. If Richard Wilbur imagined himself in this poem, I’m sure he would hope to be found serenely playing alongside Newton, another man of faith and great vision. May God grant him the Kingdom.


For Alexander there was no Far East,
because he thought the Asian continent
ended with India.
Free Cathay at least
did not contribute to his discontent.

But Newton, who had grasped all space, was more serene.
To him it seemed that he’d but played
With a few shells and pebbles on the shore
Of that profundity he had not made.

– Richard Wilbur


6 thoughts on “He made comely poems.

  1. It amazes me this word PERSPECTIVE. I’m studying the book of Romans this year. Discussion is quite lively with many views of Faith.

    Being relatively new to the Spirit’s presence in my heart I still remember the world view of even the face of a flower. How happy I am to share Mr Wilbur’s view.

    Oh! What we see when we look up!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this 🙂 The link to First Things is a long article, but good, and I’ll work my way through it. I liked this quote: “That the tone of [his] work is free of strident egoism, cynicism, bitterness, or even the slightest hint of self-pity distinguishes it still further from the work of many another writer who has sensed the inevitable approach of mortal silence.” And I thought — perhaps he lacks those distasteful qualities precisely because he does not believe in “mortal silence” — that his voice will die eternally with physical death. For a poet to believe that he will live eternally, and speak and write eternally, would eliminate much self-pity from his work, I think. I am thankful for his work.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you, G.J., for the reminders and references.

    A nice comment here as well: “Wilbur had a way of keeping all the balls in the air, winking at difficulty while making the performance seem effortless,” she writes. “Yet nothing is glib—even clapping becomes strange, clumsy in view of the juggler’s (and the poet’s) legerdemain—a battering of hands.” — A.E. Stallings


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Albert, I seem to have missed actually *reading* the article you linked to, until now!! I was listening to a podcast last night when I couldn’t sleep, of Dana Gioia talking about Donald Hall, and he mentioned that perhaps Richard Wilbur was the best poet of his era (while Hall was the best literary reviewer/critic), so I was looking at this post today… Thank you for the link, I am reading the article… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And I just went back to read (re-read? Can’t remember) the First Things essay. A good introduction to an element in RW’s poetry that i hadnt paid attention to before.


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.