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Richard Wilbur: Collected Poems 1943-2004 Paperback – April 3, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

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 is loose,/ And if you doubt it you're a goose."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

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 Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt (April 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156030799
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156030793
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #150,075 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Eric J. Lyman on February 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I first read Richard Wilbur's poems more than 20 years ago, but I have to admit that for most of that time he has been for me like the fire brigade or catastrophic health insurance -- I was glad he was there, but for whatever reason he didn't seem terribly relevant in my life.

This book helped remind me how wrong I have been.

Upon reflection, I realize that at least part of the reason for my undervaluing Mr. Wilbur's work stems from my own shortcoming: I was probably too young to appreciate his delicate insight and wit when I formed my opinions about him. But the main reason is probably because he's such a forgettable personality. He is a white male. Like most men of his generation, he served in the army during World War II. He doesn't use strange punctuation marks or filthy language. I know almost nothing about his personal life, but, as far as I know, he has never considered suicide, he has never been in rehab, he has never gone mad, and he has never been arrested. All he has done is produce beautiful and important poems, virtually non-stop for more than 60 years. In an age in which we are flooded with public personalities that demand to be noticed, that is disappointingly easy to overlook.

Collected Poems, 1943-2004 is probably as close as we're going to get to Mr. Wilbur demanding to be noticed. And if you are the type who enjoys simple pleasures and metrical poise, then you really should notice him as he appears on these pages. Everything Mr. Wilbur wrote through 2004 is included here, including previously unpublished recent poems, song lyrics, children's poems, and the great poet's well-known published works. There is no need to own any other book of Mr. Wilbur's poetry if you buy this.
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53 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Edward P. Skoog on November 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Wilbur's collected poems would be in every American home if poetry was taught better. He is the most technically proficient poet in American literary history. In matters of rhythm, meter, rhyme, shape and form, he is a sculptor, a magician.

Check out these tercets from "First Snow in Alsace," remembering that Wilbur saw pretty much three years of straight combat in World War Two:

The snow came down last night like moths

Burned on the moon; it fell till dawn,

Covered the town with simple cloths.

Absolute snow lies rumpled on

What shellbursts scattered and deranged,

Entangled railings, crevassed lawn.

You think: beyond the town a mile

Or two, this snowfall fills the eyes

Of soldiers dead a little while.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By M. Magie on July 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Wilbur is one of the indispensables; impossible to imagine American poetry, or indeed the American trajectory, without these poems, so deftly shaped, giving such wry light. I am grateful for this book.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By William Potts on March 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This collection of the poems of Richard Wilbur is in several ways a gem. Not only does it contain the bulk of the works of Wilbur, who is one of the very few major poets of our era, it is also that rarity in today's publishing industry; that is, a beautiful book, well printed on good quality paper in a most readable typeface, and elegantly bound. Wilbur's work is notable for his affinity with the poetry of Europe and elsewhere. His translations from the French, in particular, are all of a high standard. Wilbur is not afraid to write verse which has rhyme, rhythm, and elegance. This is a book to be treasured.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on May 6, 2006
Format: Paperback
Collected Poems 1943-2004 is an anthology of poetry by Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Richard Wilbur, who has previously served as poet laureate of the United States. The compendium features works in a variety of formats, meters, and rhyme schemes, with themes ranging from the mundane to the extraordinary. A superb cross-sampling of the best of Wilbur's work, Collected Poems 1943-2004 is a treasury recommended for both libraries and private poetry shelves, and is certain not to disappoint true poetry lovers. "On Having Mis-Identified a Wild Flower": A thrush, because I'd been wrong, / Burst rightly into song / In a world not vague, not lonely, / Not governed by me only.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Stick-In-The-Mud on February 13, 2009
Format: Paperback
Fashionable nonsense attracts a lot of attention and dies on the vine often before its creator does. Lyrical metered poetry is centuries old and will continue to be where the best English poetry can be found as long as English survives as a language. Wilbur was it's best practitioner in the second half of the 20th century. A century or two from now he will be widely read and his contemporaries who grabbed headlines and accolades while belittling formalism will be footnotes, if even that.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Nancy W. Grossman on April 3, 2009
Format: Paperback
I am just getting to know the poetry of Richard Wilbur. This, "A Fable," is the poem that brought him to my attention:

Securely sunning in a forest glade, / A mild, well-meaning snake / Approved the adaptations he had made / For safety's sake. // He liked the skin he had -- / Its mottled camouflage, its look of mail, / And was content that he had thought to add / A rattling tail. // The tail was not for drumming up a fight; / No, nothing of the sort. / And he would only use his poisoned bite / As last resort. // A peasant now drew near, / Collecting wood; the snake, observing this, / Expressed concern by uttering a clear / But civil hiss. // The simple churl, his nerves at once unstrung, / Mistook the other's tone / And dashed his brains out with a deftly-flung / Pre-emptive stone // Moral: Security, alas, can give / A threatening impression; / Too much defense-initiative / Can prompt aggression.

On the weight of that poem alone, I ordered up this banquet. And I have not been disappointed. When it arrived, as when confronted with a literal smörgåsbord, I first took in the length and breadth of its offerings before committing myself to a plateful. Having digested that much, I can see that, had I had the foresight to pack it, I could survive just fine shipwrecked on a tropic isle -- ideally one tricked out with a pair of palm trees, a hammock and a source of potable water.

Whatever your equivalent of my island might be, trust me, poet lauriate Richard Wilbur will not disappoint.
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