From Publishers Weekly
During the early 1950s, no young poet was more admired, nor more imitated, than Wilbur: his elegant stanzas and courteous artifice, devoted to "wit and wakefulness," modest ironies and "small strict shape," fit the careful, even chastised, postwar mood. Five decades and eight books later, Wilbur shows undiminished—and still acknowledged—powers: New Formalists and devotees of Robert Frost find Wilbur a favorite modern model, while readers with broader tastes nevertheless cherish his new excellence in old modes. This expansive and definitive volume (supplanting his Pulitzer Prize–winning 1987 New and Collected Poems
) incorporates his strong 2000 book Mayflies
, along with 13 new poems which (like Mayflies
) alternate nostalgic affection with learned humor: a Frostian lyric set in Key West considers "houses built on sand" which nevertheless "glow like the settings of some noble play." The poet's 1960s and 1970s writings (especially The Mind-Reader
) seem here overdue for revival, while his meticulous translations (from Latin, French, Russian and Spanish) comprise a too-often-neglected part of the whole. Wilbur has also won acclaim as a translator of verse plays, a writer of verse for children, and a Broadway lyricist; a brief appendix holds "show lyrics" from Candide
(1956), and a much longer one collects his five children's books, among them Opposites
(1973) and More Opposites
(1991): "The opposite of fast
,/ And if you doubt it you're a goose."
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Ever wonder why many poets present their collected poems in reverse chronological order? In Wilbur's case, it is clearly a matter of giving the best pride of place. Not to detract from his earliest work. The technical brio and impressive erudition of the poems in The Beautiful Changes
(1947) still dazzle. Wilbur's formal poetic manners were impeccable; his store of traditional poet's knowledge--such things as the names, legends, and literature of plants, creatures, and stars--was large; and his wit, for the purposes of humor and verbal legerdemain, was elegant. Newly emerged from World War II service with a hot consciousness of life's cruelties and horrors, he celebrated nature and human interactions with it in despite of anger and metaphysical doubt, and he longed for the immortality that natural beauty seemed to demand--that there should always be a conscious audience for such wonders. Time cooled his postwar heat, but that celebration and that longing persist. Technically, Wilbur remains assured and impressive; he is the premier American master of formal verse. His knowledge has expanded with his life, and his wit has grown in humor while mellowing linguistically; he now rewards careful reading more than he demands it. And he became an ace children's poet (see appendix B in this volume) and a marvelous translator from French, Russian, and Spanish. He's indispensable. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved