Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Richard Wilbur was born in New York City on March 1, 1921, the son of Lawrence L. Wilbur, a portrait painter, and Helen R. (Purdy) Wilbur, a daughter of an editor of The Baltimore Sun. He attended public schools in Essex Falls, New Jersey, and North Caldwell, New Jersey, and attended Montclair High School, where he was editor of the school paper.
In 1938, he matriculated at Amherst College; there he wrote editorials for and was chairman of the student newspaper, The Student, and was a contributor to The Touchstone, the student magazine. He once said that there he submitted an awful poem about a nightingale, a bird that he had never seen. He received a dollar for it. He received his A.B. at Amherst College in 1942, but before he could continue his studies, he was drafted into the Army. He served until 1945, when he was discharged with the rank of technician third class. He then went on to get his A.M. in religion at Harvard University in 1947. He had married Charlotte Ward in 1942; they had four children, Ellen, Christopher, Nathan, and Aaron.
After he received his master’s degree at Harvard, he was elected junior fellow there from 1947 to 1950. In 1950, he became an assistant professor of English at Harvard, where he remained until 1954. In that year he became associate professor of English at Wellesley College,...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Wilbur began his poetic career when a friend submitted some poems to a publisher. He continues, modestly writing poem after poem showing profound insights into how the human imagination delves into humankind’s relationship with nature and civilization. To this achievement can be added Wilbur’s skill in translation, especially in the area of French classical drama, an effort which has gracefully rendered these remote masters accessible to an American audience. Wilbur has probed the world with a keen, calm voice filled with wisdom and insight.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
Born to Lawrence Wilbur and Helen Purdy Wilbur, Richard Purdy Wilbur was reared in a family that was moderately interested in art and language. His father was an artist, and his mother was a daughter of an editor with the Baltimore Sun. His maternal great-grandfather was also an editor and a publisher who established newspapers supporting the Democratic platform. In 1923, the family moved to a farm in North Caldwell, New Jersey, and Wilbur and his brother enjoyed their childhoods investigating nature, an activity that remains a strong focal point in his poems. His father’s painting and his mother’s link with newspapers led him at times to think of becoming a cartoonist, an artist, or a journalist. His love of cartooning continues, for he illustrated Opposites with bold line drawings. His interests were many, however, and he was encouraged by his family to explore any talents he wished. After graduating from Montclair High School in 1938, he entered Amherst College, where he edited the newspaper and contributed to Touchstone, the campus humor magazine. He spent summers hoboing around the country.
After graduation in 1942, Wilbur married Charlotte Hayes Ward (with whom he had four children), joined the Enlisted Reserve Corps, and saw active duty in Europe with the Thirty-sixth Infantry Division. At Cassino, Anzio, and the Siegfried line, he began writing poetry seriously, embarking on what he calls creation of “an...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Richard Purdy Wilbur, the son of Lawrence Lazear Wilbur, an artist, and Helen Ruth Purdy Wilbur, was born in New York City but spent many early years in a rural area near North Caldwell, New Jersey. He has asserted that this country experience accounts for his earlier nature poetry. He wrote his first poem, “That’s When the Nightingales Wake,” at the age of eight. After graduating from Montclair High School, he attended Amherst College, where he edited the college newspaper and considered a career in journalism. He graduated in 1942 and that same year married Charlotte Ward, with whom he had four children, Ellen, Christopher, Nathan, and Aaron.
He wrote poetry from a young age, but it was the experience of the war that turned him toward writing as a serious endeavor. From 1943 to 1945 he served as an enlisted man in Europe at some of the major fronts. After the war he returned to school, and in 1947 he received an M.A. in English at Harvard University, where he remained as a junior fellow until 1950. In 1947 and 1950 his first two books of poems, The Beautiful Changes and Ceremony, appeared. In 1950, committed to an academic career, he became an assistant professor of English at Harvard, an unusual post for one without a doctorate. He took time out in 1952 to visit Mexico on a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation. During this time he won the Harriet Monroe and the Oscar Blumenthal prizes from Poetry magazine, and in 1954...
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Richard Wilbur was born in New York City on March 1, 1921, to Lawrence L. Wilbur, a portrait painter, and Helen Purdy Wilbur, whose father and grandfather had been newspaper editors. Wilbur felt influences from both sides of his family. He enjoyed drawing and creating cartoons when he was young, but he also had a passion for words. His interests were combined when he began writing poems, since he uses vivid visual images in his poetry.
When he was two, Wilbur moved with his family to rural New Jersey. They rented a pre-Revolutionary War stone house on a four-hundred-acre estate owned by an English millionaire. Growing up in this environment, Wilbur developed his awareness of and appreciation for nature, which is evident in many of his poems.
Attending Amherst College in Massachusetts from 1938 to 1942, Wilbur studied literature in the then-popular method of New Criticism. New Critics encouraged poets to write in traditional forms while expressing the discord of modern life. Wilbur served as the editor of the student newspaper and published some poems, stories, and editorials in college publications. During the summers, he traveled around the country, hitchhiking and “riding the rails”—catching free rides on freight trains.
In 1942 Wilbur married Charlotte Hayes Ward, then joined the U.S. Army to serve in Europe in World War II. He began to write poems more frequently while in the army. Writing helped him, he said, make order...
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Richard Purdy Wilbur was born March 1, 1921, in New York, New York, into a family of writers and artists. His mother’s father and grandfather were newspaper editors, and Wilbur’s father was a commercial artist in New York. When Wilbur entered Amherst College in 1938, he studied to become a newspaper editor himself, spending summers travelling the country in boxcars. In college, his writing was mostly prose, with a focus on essays and editorials. After graduation, he served in Europe during World War II, and his intimate experience with the horrors of war caused him to change his career goal, leading Wilbur to appreciate the subtleties of poetry. The idea that poetry is a way of making order out of a chaotic situation can be seen in his early postwar poems. His first book of poetry, The Beautiful Changes and Other Poems, was published in 1947, the same year that he received his master of arts degree from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
It took Wilbur just a short time to gain a reputation as a poet. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, he won major literary prizes, establishing a pattern of recognition from his peers that has continued throughout his career as a writer. A small sampling of these honors include Guggenheim fellowships in 1952 and 1963, the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize from Poetry magazine in 1948 and 1978, the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1957 and 1989, and a Gold Medal for Poetry from the American Academy and...
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