Richard Wilbur Wilbur, Richard (Vol. 3)

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Wilbur, Richard (Vol. 3)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Wilbur, Richard 1921–

A Pulitzer-winning American poet, critic, and translator, Wilbur writes elegant and sophisticated poems. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

Richard Wilbur is a delicate, charming, and skillful poet. His poems not only make you use, but make you eager to use, words like attractive and appealing and engaging. His poems are often gay and often elegiac—almost professionally elegiac, sometimes; funny or witty; individual; beautiful or, at worst, pretty; accomplished in their rhymes and rhythms and language…. Mr. Wilbur seems to be a naturally lyric or descriptive poet….

Most of his poetry consents too easily to its own unnecessary limitations…. Mr. Wilbur never goes too far, but he never goes far enough. In the most serious sense of the word he is not a very satisfactory poet. And yet he seems the best of the quite young poets writing in this country…. But I can't blame his readers if they say to him in encouraging impatient voices: "Come on, take a chance!" If you never look just wrong to your contemporaries you will never look just right to posterity—every writer has to be, to some extent, sometimes, a law unto himself.

Randall Jarrell, in his Poetry and the Age (© 1953 by Randall Jarrell; reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.), Knopf-Vintage, 1953, pp. 227-30.

[Wilbur's] impersonal, exactly accomplished, faintly sententious skill produces poems that, ordinarily, compose themselves into a little too regular a beauty—there is no eminent beauty without a certain strangeness in the proportion; and yet "A Baroque Wall-Fountain in the Villa Sciarra" is one of the most marvelously beautiful, one of the most nearly perfect poems any American has written, and poems like "A Black November Turkey" and "A Hole in the Floor" are the little differentiated, complete-in-themselves universes that true works of art are. Wilbur's lyric calling-to-life of the things of this world—the things, rather than the processes or the people—specializes in both true and false happy endings, not by choice but by necessity; he obsessively sees, and shows, the bright underside of every dark thing.

Randall Jarrell, "Fifty Years of American Poetry" (1962), in his The Third Book of Criticism (reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.; copyright © 1941, 1945, 1955, 1956, 1962, 1963, 1965 by Mrs. Randall Jarrell; copyright © 1963, 1965 by Randall Jarrell), Farrar, Straus, 1969.

Wilbur is a versatile craftsman, capable of assimilating to his own uses the techniques of poets as peculiar and difficult as Marianne Moore; and he controls, always with deceptive ease, whatever he sees (the cultivated countryside just out of cities), feels (the loveliness of the created world), imagines (Noah, dead heroes) or muses upon (the meaning of art). His language is never banal and never outrageous; his music never dull and never atrocious; he knows what he can do and is never tempted to exceed it. Most of his adult life he has spent teaching in a university, but he has a sense of his obligation to those outside it, and has tried to extend the range of his voice in the theater: translating, for instance, with astonishing fidelity and grace…. Wilbur has already had an effect on the work of younger poets, particularly in the universities, and has come to be spoken of widely as an influence on current poetic practice.

Leslie A. Fiedler, in his Waiting For the End (copyright © 1964 by Leslie A. Fiedler; reprinted with permission of Stein and Day/Publishers), Stein & Day, 1964, p. 219.

No one has ever denied [Wilbur's] technical mastery; the only question is whether it amounts too often to mere virtuosity. The virtuosity is the more apparent because he writes almost always in strict forms, some conventional and some original, with rhyme, regular stanza forms, and traditional meters. When a poet accepts a clear set of rules, his technical success is easier to judge than when he takes a broader freedom. Even in his...

(The entire section is 4,295 words.)