Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Richard Wilbur dies at age 96

Richard Wilbur, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and translator who intrigued and delighted generations of readers and theatergoers through his rhyming editions of Moliere and his own verse on memory, writing and nature, died. He was 96.

Wilbur died Saturday night in Belmont, Massachusetts, with his family by his side, according to friend and fellow poet, Dana Gioia.

The U.S. poet laureate in 1987-88, Wilbur was often cited as an heir to Robert Frost and other New England writers and was the rare versifier to enjoy a following beyond the poetry community. He was regarded — not always favorably — as a leading “formalist,” a master of old-fashioned meter and language who resisted contemporary trends. Wilbur was also known for his translations, especially of Moliere, Racine and other French playwrights. His playful, rhyming couplets of Moliere’s “Tartuffe” and “The Misanthrope” were often called the definitive editions of those classic 17th-century satires.

“Moliere has had no better American friend than the poet Richard Wilbur,” The New York Times’ Frank Rich wrote in 1982. “Mr. Wilbur’s lighter-than-air verse upholds the idiom and letter of Moliere, yet it also satisfies the demands of the stage.”

Wilbur’s expertise in French literature eventually brought him to Broadway as a lyricist for Leonard Bernstein’s production of Voltaire’s “Candide,” which premiered in 1956. Numerous other writers, including Dorothy Parker and James Agee, had been unable to get along with the demanding team of Bernstein and Lillian Hellman.

“Lillian had heard about my translation of Moliere’s ‘The Misanthrope’ and wanted to have a look at it,” Wilbur told The Associated Press in 2006. “She decided that if I could translate one witty Frenchman, I might be able to do another.”

He received numerous literary honors, including the National Book Award and two Pulitzer Prizes, for “Things of This World,” released in 1956, and for “New and Collected Poems,” which came out in 1989. Upon announcing in 1987 that Wilbur would serve as poet laureate, Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin called him “a poet for all of us, whose elegant words brim with wit and paradox.”

Handsome and athletic into his 90s, with a warm, clear voice ideal for readings, he had an unusual quality for a major poet: happiness. His Christian faith was unbroken by the influence of campus leftists at Amherst College, his wartime service on the front lines in Europe or his acquaintance with such self-destructive peers as Sylvia Plath, whom he remembered in his poem “Cottage Street 1953” as “the pale, slumped daughter” of her “frightened” mother.

“I think many people associate happiness with shallowness,” Wilbur told the AP. “What people don’t want is someone who is complacent. And I know that I am not a complacent man.”

Plath was among his admirers, praising the “witty rhymes” and “sparkling style” of his translation of “The Misanthrope” and finding his poetic style “congenial” to hers.

Wilbur’s poems were often brief, subtle, temperate, reflecting upon childhood, family, nature and the creative process. In “Mind,” he likened the mind to “some bat/That beats about in caverns all alone/Contriving by a kind of senseless wit/Not to conclude against a wall of stone.” A connoisseur of riddles, he loved constructing poems in which the meaning is not revealed until the end, like a well-delivered punchline.

Wilbur married Charlee Ward, a Smith College student, while he was nearby at Amherst, in 1942. They had four children. Charlee Ward Wilbur died in 2007.

Richard Wilbur, an 11th-generation American and son of a commercial artist, was born in New York in 1921 and moved two years later to rural New Jersey, where his family lived in a colonial-era stone house on 400 acres of land, much room for a young poet and his thoughts. As a teenager, his poem about a nightingale was published in John Martin’s Magazine. He was paid $1.

Kicked out of the Signal Corps at the start of World War II — he was classified as “Suspected of Disloyalty” because of his college friends — he was transferred to the front lines in the 36th Infantry. He recalled jotting down verse in moments of spare time because it was the most practical way of expressing himself. “In a fox hole, you can write a poem, but you cannot paint a picture,” he observed.

Studying at Harvard University after the war, Wilbur befriended French poet Andre du Bouchet. When Wilbur’s wife, Charlee, confided that her husband had a hidden stash of work, du Bouchet demanded to see it. He welcomed Wilbur as a fellow poet by kissing him on both cheeks and helping him get a publisher.

“It was the most painless, positive experience of getting a book published that I could imagine,” Wilbur recalled.

His first book, “The Beautiful Changes and Other Poems,” came out in 1947. He also wrote children’s books and translated many European poets, including Baudelaire, Anna Akhmatova and Joseph Brodsky. His lyrics for “A Stable-Lamp is Lighted” were adapted into a popular hymn.

In 2004, his “Collected Poems, 1943-2004” was published to great acclaim and helped solidify a reputation that had varied over the years, with Wilbur often dismissed during the 1960s and 1970s as tame and insulated.

“Like his face, his poems show no deterioration over time,” critic Phyllis Rose wrote in Poetry Magazine in 2005. “The later poems are as elegant and intricate, as devoted to musical pleasures, as fully achieved, as the earliest.”

For much of his adult life, Wilbur wrote every day, in longhand, then transcribed his work on a manual typewriter. Just as poetry and translation called for very different talents, so they also made different demands on his daily life.

“When I’m translating a play … I write obsessively all day,” he told the AP in 2006. “Even when I’m taking a nap, there are lines working in my mind.

“As for poems, one doesn’t set a poem aside until it’s done.”

ad-high_impact_4
Entertainment
New Brunch Spot The Stove Makes Unicorn Hot Chocolate And Bananas Foster Pancakes
New Brunch Spot The Stove Makes Unicorn Hot Chocolate And Bananas Foster Pancakes. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Octopus On The Las Vegas Strip Predicted The Winner Of The World Cup
The Octopus On The Las Vegas Strip Predicted The Winner Of The World Cup. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-journal)
TLC by the Numbers
Watch Ruthless! at Las Vegas Little Theatre
The musical Ruthless! will be playing at Las Vegas Little Theatre from July 13-29. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
How to feel like a kid again in Las Vegas
How to feel like a kid again in Las Vegas
People Lined Up For Over 5 Hours For Build-a-bear's "Pay Your Age" Promotion At Galleria Mall
People Lined Up For Over 5 Hours For Build-a-bear's "Pay Your Age" Promotion At Galleria Mall. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Cadaver art and sword swallowing at The Dark Arts Market
Curator Erin Emrie talks about her inspiration for The Dark Arts Market at Cornish Pasty Co. in Las Vegas Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Over 40,000 People Attend The 4th Of July Parade In Summerlin In Las Vegas
Over 40,000 People Attend The 4th Of July Parade In Summerlin In Las Vegas. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
What to expect at Station Casinos' Fourth of July celebration
Station Casinos' is hosting its annual 4th of July celebration with Fireworks by Grucci. Fireworks scheduled to go off on Wednesday, July 4 around 9 p.m. at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Red Rock Resort, Fiesta Rancho and Texas Station. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Pawn Stars' Richard Harrison honored at memorial service
A memorial service was conducted for Richard "Old Man" Harrison at Palm Mortuary in Las Vegas on Sunday, July 1, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Tourists and locals enjoy Independence Day fireworks at Caesars Palace
Hundreds of tourists and locals gaze at the Independence Day fireworks show at Caesars Palace on Saturday, June 30, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
5 must-see bands at Warped Tour 2018
Five must-see bands at Warped Tour 2018
This Banana Split In Las Vegas Is Made With Fire And Liquid Nitrogen Right At Your Table.
This Banana Split In Las Vegas Is Made With Fire And Liquid Nitrogen Right At Your Table. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pixar Pier At Disneyland Is Open With New Food And A New Roller Coaster
Pixar Pier At Disneyland Is Open With New Food And A New Roller Coaster (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Here's What It's Like To Ride The New Incredicoaster At Disneyland
Here's What It's Like To Ride The New Incredicoaster At Disneyland (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
"Pawn Stars" fans visit Richard Harrison's memorial at Gold & Silver Pawn
"Pawn Stars" fans from around the world visit the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas following the passing of Richard "Old Man" Harrison on Monday, June 25, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Get a sneak peek at Palace Station's newest renovations
Station Casinos spokesperson Lori Nelson gives a first look at what Palace Station's $192 million renovation will bring. Some areas will begin opening to the public next week according to Nelson. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
You Can Only Get The 11-pound 8-person Burger In Las Vegas
You Can Only Get The 11-pound 8-person Burger In Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Paul McCartney is worth over $1 billion
Sir Paul McCartney is one of the most celebrated and accomplished musicians in history. He just turned 76 on June 18. McCartney grew to international fame with the Beatles and went on to become a wildly successful solo musician. Paul McCartney’s net worth is estimated at $1.2 billion, according to Celebrity Net Worth. In 2017, McCartney landed the No. 13 spot on Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-paid musicians, earning $54 million for the year. On Thursday, June 20, McCartney will release a double A-side single featuring two new songs, "I Don't Know" and "Come On to Me." McCartney has yet to announce a title of his new album or when it will be released. Th album is expected to be released before he headlines the Austin City Limits Music fest in October.
Bellagio's New Conservatory Brings Italian Summer To Las Vegas
Bellagio's New Conservatory Brings Italian Summer To Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Kari Curletto of Las Vegas put over 500 hours into making her toilet paper wedding dress. (Courtesy Kari Curletto)
Kari Curletto of Las Vegas put over 500 hours into making her toilet paper wedding dress. (Courtesy Kari Curletto)
The Real Crepe In Las Vegas Serves Authentic Crepes In The Style Of Brittany, France
The Real Crepe In Las Vegas Serves Authentic Crepes In The Style Of Brittany, France. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-journal)
New Marilyn Musical Brings Screen Icons Life To Strip
Paris Las Vegas hosts musical bio featuring new, old tunes. (Carol Cling Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas' hottest concerts of the summer
Vegas' hottest concerts of the summer
We Taste-tested The Best Doughnut Shops In Las Vegas
We Taste-tested The Best Doughnut Shops In Las Vegas. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
5 must-see bands at Punk Rock Bowling 2018
5 must-see bands at Punk Rock Bowling 2018
Gabi Coffee & Bakery Is Like A Korean Speakeasy From The 1920s
Gabi Coffee & Bakery Is Like A Korean Speakeasy From The 1920s (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Five must-see acts at the Electric Daisy Carnival 2018
Five must-see acts at the Electric Daisy Carnival 2018
The "13 Reasons Why" mustang cruises down the Las Vegas Strip (Courtesy Netflix)
4 fun and fascinating museums in Las Vegas
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like