Sunday Poem 87

Whilst prowling in the Age Concern Bookshop on Friday, I found a copy of a book which we frequently used for my Speech & Drama Exams at school, called ‘Voices’ ed. Geoffrey Summerfield.  There’s so much good stuff in here, it was hard to pick one.  But I managed.

Richard Wilbur, poet and literary translator, was born in 1921 in New York City, USA.  He was educated at Amhurst College and Harvard and served in the army during World War II.

He had his first poem published when he was only 8 years old, but his first collection of poems appeared in 1947.  He has published several volumes of poetry since then, including ‘New and Collected Poems’ and his work tends to focus on everyday experiences and emotions.

His translations specialize in the 17th century French comedies of Moliere and the dramas of  Jean Racine.   His translation of the play ‘Tartuffe’ has become the standard English version, and has been presented on television twice.

He taught for thirty years and is still teaching at Amherst College aged 90.  His literary honours are too extensive to list, but he won two Pullitzer Prizes for Poetry and in 1987 was made US Poetry Laureate.

He was – by Richard Wilbur (1921- )

a brown old man with a green thumb :
I can remember the screak on stones of his hoe,
The chug, choke, and high madrigal wheeze
Of the spray-cart bumping below
The sputter leaves of the apple trees,
But he was all but dumb

Who filled some quarter of the day with sound
All of my childhood long.  For all I heard
Of all his labours, I can now recall
Never a single word
Until he went into the dead of fall
To the drowsy underground,

Having planted a young orchard with so great care
In that last year that none was lost, and May
Aroused them all, the leaves saying the land’s
Praise for the livening clay,
And the found voice of his buried hands
Rose in the sparrow air.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

7 responses to “Sunday Poem 87

  1. penny

    Wow, what amazing imagery. Timely as I was talking to one of our slightly older church members today about attitudes towards age. He told the story of trying to repair his wheelbarrow when he was 9 years old and an older neighbour giving him advice. He remembered that his reaction was “how can he know that he’s 70 years old”. Well the slightly older church member has now passed that landmark. I can’t wait to show him this poem!

  2. wartimehousewife

    Hi Penny – I’m always so pleased when someone else enjoys a poem as much as I do. These people, like the man in the poem, are the true unsung heroes in life.

  3. Morag

    He was my grandfather! Thanks for the memory.

    • wartimehousewife

      Seriously, Morag? Richard Wilbur was your grandfather?

      • Morag

        LOL, no. Penny is right. What I mean is that this poem is a perfect evocation of my grandfather.

        Ahh, that I had any illustrious forbears … Mind you, Emperor Charlemagne was one. Not because I’ve researched my family tree, but apparently everyone in the western world is related to him distantly (so Stephen Fry told us on QI a few weeks ago).

  4. Penny Beaumont

    WH– maybe Morag means the gardener in the poem; it could be my uncle, the best gardening advice he gave me was to have patience.

  5. wartimehousewife

    I would believe anything any of your told me as I believe my Readers to be of impeccable pedigree. Or is that Retrievers?

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