21 Nov

Richard Wilbur and the Comeliness of Things

Category: What We're Reading
By: Ken Myers
Published: 11/21/04

Just in time for Thanksgiving (or for Christmas giving), Richard Wilbur's Collected Poems 1943-2004 has been published by Harcourt. Thanksgiving is an apt moment, since Wilbur's poetry consistently bears witness to the good gifts in Creation. In a review essay in The New Yorker (November 22, 2004), Adam Kirsch writes of Wilbur's praise of mundane joys, and writes with a bit of jaded suspicion (the article is entitled "Get Happy," with a note of disapproval; Kirsch suggests, without denying Wilbur's powerful poetic gifts, that "Wilbur's essentially hopeful temperament leaves him ill-equipped for certain kinds of moral inquiry"). Kirsch also quotes from a 1977 Paris Review essay with Wilbur: "To put it simply, I feel that the universe is full of glorious energy, that the energy tends to take pattern and shape, and that the ultimate character of things is comely and good. I am perfectly aware that I say this in the teeth of all sorts of contrary evidence, and that I must be basing it partly on temperament and partly on faith, but that is my attitude." Thanksgiving, indeed. I am reminded of the title of Josef Pieper's book, In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity, in which Pieper argues that the essence of the spirit of celebration is that of saying "Yes" to God's unnecessary gift of creation. Professor Roger Lundin quotes Wilbur's celebratory poetry (particularly "Love Call Us to the Things of This World") in the article "Postmodern Gnostics." [Posted November 2004, KAM]