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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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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.