The Poems of Richard Wilbur

The Poems of Richard Wilbur

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The Poems of Richard Wilbur


Richard Wilbur's New and Collected Poems is full of poems that cover a huge multitude of subjects. The four poems this assignment covers represent that variety, with the topics including love, juggling, grace and music. Wilbur's poems take experiences and ideas (even a juggler) and through his mastery of the English language force the reader to take another look at what his preconceptions are. His poems allow for many different interpretations, and this paper will take a different angle to some of his works.


"Love Calls Us to the Things of This World" sets up, in the first stanza, the feeling that something otherworldly is going to be in the picture. "The morning air is all awash with angels" brings in the image (or concept) of heaven, which Wilbur refers to again later in the poem. In the 2nd stanza, again the concept of not-of-this-world is brought into play with the mention of the halcyon, which is a mythical bird. One literary device that Wilbur seems to draw upon heavily in this poem is the use of oxymorons, contradictory terms together. The angels are rising together in "calm swells." When I think of swells, calm is not necessarily the word that comes to mind. He also states that the angels are "flying in place...moving/ And staying like white water." Flying implies movement, so "flying in place" is not a phrase that is commonly heard. Later in the poem he uses the term bitter love, and while I understand that this concept does in fact exist, it is still two words which are somewhat contradictory. In the last stanza he mentions the "heaviest nuns" trying hard to keep their "difficult balance." This reminded me of that concept of funambilism that we discussed in class. This work seems to utilize the idea of balance (indirectly) in many aspects. The use of the contradictory terms that I discussed earlier could be thought of as balancing each other out. This poem overall was very well put together, with sentences that caught your attention, and my favorite sentence was "The soul shrinks/ From all that it is about to remember."


"Juggler" was probably the most elegant of the poems that were assigned. The other two discussed the concepts of love and grace, but "Juggler" made juggling a very beautiful act. I must state that the fact that I'm able to juggle probably had some influence on my understanding of this poem.

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While reading the first couple of stanzas, I kept thinking of that old axiom "What goes up, must come down." It's really a wonderful description of juggling when he writes of the balls "learning the ways of lightness." In the 3rd stanza, the juggler discards the plain-Jane balls in favor of "a broom, a plate, a table." This is bringing the thusfar described elegant juggling down to the level of the average person. This inclusion of everyday objects makes it more accessible to everybody. It maybe could be considered universality, in that everybody had those three items laying around the house, and now this juggler is using them in his act. In the last stanza he seems to be admitting that although the juggler is regal and graceful, all good things must come to an end. Gravity will win over in the end. I must say that through my experiences with juggling, Wilbur is pretty close to what's going on. Juggling is such a good release for me. I feel so coordinated when I'm juggling; I feel like I can conquer the world. It really is like "Swinging a small heaven about his [my] ears." On one very picky note, I noticed a concept in the poem that I was confused about. He was balancing the broom on his nose and the plate was whirling on the tip of the broom. Now, which end of the broom had the bristles? I would think it would be difficult to balance a broom on your nose using the bristles, and also darn near impossible to spin a plate on the bristles of a broom. But, I may be just being too picky.


"Grace" is a very beautiful poem that uses many vivid and energetic examples to discuss the concept of grace. Once again the concept of funambilism is discussed: Wilbur is amazed at the "dining-car waiter's absurd/ Acrobacy." Wilbur mentions one of the greatest dancers of this century, Vaslav Fomich Nijinsky. Nijinsky, whose most famous role was that of Faun in Afternoon of a Faun, was most widely known for his trademark leap, where it seemed he paused in midair. Now, I've never seen this leap, but I can imagine how indescribably graceful that must of looked. I think that in stanza three, Wilbur is trying to make the point that grace is beautiful thing and should not be analyzed too much. Nijinsky's quote to exemplify this is wonderful: "I merely leap and pause." More people should learn from that quote. The poem is very explicit in its idea that grace is in everywhere: sheep, waiters, dancers, authors, soldiers, etc. This poem shapes a very positive view of the world.


The poem I chose to respond too is "C Minor" on pages 74-75 of Wilbur's book. This poem just takes several literary snapshots of everday life and says that music (however you wish to define the term) can be found anywhere. It seems like the subject changes several times. In stanzas four and five, it would seem (stereotypically) that the subject is wife staying at home while her husband is off working. "One of us, hoeing in the garden plot/ (Unless, of course, it rains)" while the other is off at the "day's work." Also, in the next stanza the subject is pacing "through too-familiar rooms/ Balked and dissatified." However, in stanza 6, this subject of a housewife changes (if you once again accept the stereotypical views of men and women's roles). The husband asks "What shall I whistle, splitting the kindling-wood?" This device of subject changing is somewhat confusing, but I think Wilbur uses it to express the idea of universality: whatever you do in life, have fun with it, and make music. This poem seems to have a positive attitude about it, but Wilbur uses words that normally imply negative connotations. One prime example of this, in the first stanza, when the "human soul" wins out "over despair and doubt." That's a very optimistic view, but despair and doubt are two words that are usually pessimistic. Wilbur uses that device again in stanza 4, with "The day's work will be disappointing or not." He could have said "The day's work will be enjoyable or not," but he chose to use the word disappointing. This poem forces the reader to feel two emotions. The individual words have a very deadening effect on the reader, but the concepts he discusses (music, very indirectly) make the reader smile at the thought.


These four poems are very interesting individual studies by themselves. However, once looked at all together, they show the wide range of Richard Wilbur's talents. He is able to take everyday ideas or concepts and look at them through different glasses. Seeing the beauty and the humor, in many different things, Wilbur is able to transmit that love for life to the reader of his poems.
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