Poem #43: “The Reader” by Richard Wilbur

Richard Wilbur, the great American poet, celebrated his 90th birthday this week, on March 1. I’d always meant to feature one of his poem in honor of the day.  But, readers, you cannot imagine how difficult it’s been choosing just one poem from among his fantastic collection of poetry, many of which I count as favorites.  Then I remembered that this, after all, is my blog and there is no limit on the number of Wilbur poems that I can feature in the future.  Thank goodness :).

It is bewildering that Wilbur is not as widely known nor widely read as some of his peers.  His poetry has won numerous awards and he’s been the US Poet Laureate. All the reasons proffered to explain the relative neglect of his work are, in my opinion, bullocks. This week, I chosen a reading-themed poem for us readers and book lovers. Enjoy!

The Reader

She is going back, these days, to the great stories
That charmed her younger mind. A shaded light
Shines on the nape half-shadowed by her curls,
And a page turns now with a scuffing sound.
Onward they come again, the orphans reaching
For a first handhold in a stony world,
The young provincials who at last look down
On the city’s maze, and will descend into it,
The serious girl, once more, who would live nobly,
The sly one who aspires to marry so,
The young man bent on glory, and that other
Who seeks a burden. Knowing as she does
What will become of them in bloody field
Or Tuscan garden, it may be that at times
She sees their first and final selves at once,
As a god might to whom all time is now.
Or, having lived so much herself, perhaps
She meets them this time with a wiser eye,
Noting that Julien’s calculating head
Is from the first too severed from his heart.
But the true wonder of it is that she,
For all that she may know of consequences,
Still turns enchanted to the next bright page
Like some Natasha in the ballroom door—
Caught in the flow of things wherever bound,
The blind delight of being, ready still
To enter life on life and see them through.

For other birthday greetings, with poetry, please see these articles at Anecdotal Evidence (the featured poem is divine), the Wall Street Journal and at The New Republic.




    • Isn’t it a wonderful poem on rereading. He is a wonderful poet. Very eloquent. His poetry is deceptive. It appears easy because he is so accomplished at putting his verses together. I do hope more people will read his opus.


Comments are closed.