b. March 1, 1921

Now at 90 years of age in his latest volume of poems Anterooms, Wilbur takes time to reflect on human mortality. The following excerpt is taken from an article by Canadian scholar David Lyle Jeffrey in the current issue of First Things (June/July 2011). First Things is a journal of cultural comment shaped by orthodox Catholic faith – though like Jeffrey many of its contributors are from the Protestant tradition.

“It is characteristic of the gentle but unmistakably Christian character of Wilbur’s poetry that he should include in his latest volume a “Psalm” of gratitude for life, both its joys and its sorrows.

… The balance of advantage and disadvantage in living long is tilted toward the good, most Christians have tended to think, when one has lived well, not clinging to some version or other of a desperate immortalism. The wisdom, expressed variously in other Christian poets such as T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden and Wendell Berry, has emerged in Wilbur as a deep contentment pervading with convincing seamlessness the whole of his poetry, almost from the beginning.

The very peaceableness of so much of his verse reminds us that Richard Wilbur has always been a wisdom poet. … His little poem, The Proof, …tactfully expresses in four couplets his gratitude for God’s patience with him. Shall I love God for causing me to be? I was mere utterance; shall these words love me? Yet when I caused his work to jar and stammer, And one free subject loosened all his grammar, I love him that he did not in a rage Once and forever rule me off the page, But, thinking I might come to please him yet, Crossed out delete and wrote his patient stet. No one who is not a mature and contented poet, quite unashamedly indebted, personally and poetically, to the gift of Scripture and its tradition, could write such a whimsical self-effacement and gratitude all in the same breath.

More than any American poet of our time, Richard Wilbur teaches us to open ourselves to wonder. In this he has been a prophet and more than a prophet; for those with eyes to see and ears to hear he has been and, pray God, will long hereafter be, a bearer of comforting
words. …”