From the Archive: Richard Wilbur
But ceremony never did conceal,
Save to the silly eye, which all allows,
How much we are the woods we wander in.
—Richard Wilbur, “Ceremony”
Richard Wilbur's career as a poet officially began in 1944 when, without his knowledge, the Saturday Evening Post printed a poem that he'd sent to his wife Charlotte from his station in the 36th Allied Infantry Division in Europe. Wilbur's time in the army ended a year later, and only two years after that his first book, The Beautiful Changes and Other Poems, debuted to strong critical praise. The January 1948 issue of Poetry reviewed Wilbur with the headline, "A Remarkable New Talent," words that would soon prove prophetic; with the publication of his second book, Ceremony and Other Poems (1950), Wilbur was established as a major voice—before he reached his thirtieth birthday. This month's Web Exclusive showcases seven poems from Poetry's February 1948 issue, when the magazine featured Richard Wilbur's work for the first time.
These early poems show the beginnings of what would develop into Wilbur's signature grace: the brightness and buoyancy of the world, focused into formal precision. Also in evidence here are Wilbur's lifelong thematic preoccupations: classical art as a provocation to poetry; the heightened decorum of love; and the natural world as a site of study and a source of revelation. These poems display the clear-minded, optimistic formal verse that Wilbur has been writing for over sixty years, often in defiance of the current literary fashions, and which has led him to author classics such as "Advice to a Prophet," and "Baroque Wall-Fountain in the Villa Sciarra." Poetry is proud to have been among the first to recognize the talent of this modern master.