Collected Poems, 1943-2004

Collected Poems 1943-2004
Richard Wilbur
Harcourt, $35, 608 pp.

In his introductory note to this handsome and in every sense weighty volume, Richard Wilbur, surveying the fruits of sixty-one years of poems, announces with some pride that “nothing has been thrown out, and any changes of wording are too few and too slight to mention.” Nothing need be thrown out, we might add, because from the outset of his career Wilbur has never published a poem that was merely tossed off, hoping somehow to catch the eye of a sympathetic reader. Once he had submitted words to the authority of print, few further changes of wording were needed, since the poem had attained what Robert Frost called its “figure”-“a clarification of life,” “a momentary stay against confusion.” Frost also said, in his brief manifesto, “The Figure a Poem Makes,” that the figure was the same as for love. So it makes wholly appropriate sense that this edition begins and ends with poems clearly occasioned by the presence of Charlotte Ward Wilbur, to whom the collection is dedicated. (They were married in 1942 and Wilbur went off to war the following year.)

Since Collected Poems follows the current common practice of printing the work in reverse order of appearance, it ends with the title poem to Wilbur’s first volume, The Beautiful Changes, and begins with “The Reader,” published in the New Yorker not long ago. Without simplifying his career and achievement unduly, these two poems juxtaposed say something about the...

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About the Author

William H. Pritchard is the Henry Clay Folger Professor of English at Amherst College. He is the author of Shelf Life: Literary Essays and Reviews (University of Massachusetts Press) among others.