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Richard Wilbur – National Poetry Month

Morning Song: Poems edited by Susan Todd and Carol Purington

Morning Song: Poems for New Parents

Richard Wilbur (1921-2017) winner of Pulitzer Prizes for Things of This World (1956) and New and Collected Poems (1988),was named the second Poet Laureate of our country and won many awards and prizes. I knew Richard Wilbur had long lived in our corner of western Massachusetts, but I never expected to get a letter from him.  And for that I thank Carol Purington and Susan Todd who were longtime friends of his.

Carol and Susan were putting together Morning Song, an anthology of poems for new parents with section headings like Waiting, Newest Child, Green and Carefree, Lessons and more. Several of Wilbur’s poems were included in different sections. The poems chosen ranged from Sappho to contemporary poets like Wilbur. As I read the poems I can see the memories and hopes that we parents feel as we look in our children’s eyes as they grow.

One of Wilbur’s poems in Morning Song is The Writer.

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
from her shut door a commotion of typewriter keys
Like chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thoughts and its easy figure
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking.
And then she is at it again, with a bunched clamor
Of stokes, and again is silent.

——————-  and ends with

It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

As the mother of three daughters (and two sons) I cannot think help thinking of the stronger wishes that arrive as they grow older. And older.

As for my letter from Wilbur, since I was now friends with his friends, I wrote and asked permission to use one poem that spoke of an experience we shared in my Commonweeder blog. He responded generously. You can read April 5, 1974 here.

Richard Wilbur is also known for his wit. I particularly enjoy the lyrics he wrote for Leonard Berstein’s operetta Candide, based on Voltaire’s 1758 novella that satirized the philosophies of the day. As the story comes to a close Candide and his love Cunegonde imagine a happy married life. Oh, Happy We

CANDIDE  –  Soon, when we feel we can afford it
We’ll build a modest little farm
CUNEGONDE  –  We’ll buy a yacht and live aboard it
Rolling in luxury and stylish charm
CANDIDE – Cows and chickens
CUNEGONDE – Social whirls
CANDIDE – Peas and cabbage
CUNEGONDE – Ropes of pearls
CANDIDE – Soon there’ll be little ones beside us;
We’ll have a sweet Westphalian home
CUNEGONDE – Somehow we’ll grow as rich as Midas;
We’ll live in Paris when we’re not in Rome

************************

CUNEGONDE – We’ll round the world enjoying high life
All bubbly pink champagne and gold
CANDIDE – We’ll lead a rustic and a shy life
Feeding the pigs and sweetly growing old

CUNEGONDE – Breast of peacock
CANDIDE – Apple pie
CUNEGONDE – I love marriage
CANDIDE – So do I

CUNEGONDE & CANDIDE
Oh, happy pair!
Oh, happy we!
It’s very rare
How we agree

Married life and children. Wilbur expressed the challenges and blessings of all.

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