Richard Wilbur named poet laureate

WASHINGTON -- Richard Wilbur, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and translator, will become the nation's second poet laureate in September, Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin announced.

Wilbur, 66, succeeds Robert Penn Warren in the post, which is a one-year appointment beginning early this fall. It also includes being consultant in poetry at the library -- a position created 50 years ago and occupied by poets such as Robert Frost and Stephen Spender.


A former professor at Smith College, Wilbur won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his book, 'Things of This World,' published in 1956.

Boorstin described Wilbur Friday as 'a poet for us all, whose elegant words brim with wit and paradox. He is also a poet's poet, at home in the long tradition and traveled ways of the great poets of our language,' he said. 'His poems are among the best our country has to offer.'

Wilbur is widely known for his translations of the French playwright Moliere's 'Le Misanthrope' and 'Tartuffe,' winning the 1963 Bollingen Translation Prize for the latter.

Wilbur, who lives in Cummington, Mass., also wrote the lyrics for Leonard Bernstein's musical version of Voltaire's 'Candide.' Playwright Lillian Hellman collaborated on the comic opera.


As a poet strongly influenced by the dominant school of New Criticism, which included Penn Warren, Wilbur's poetry seeks to ride what he once called the 'difficult balance' between extremes.

His poetry is often a kind of running controversy between abstraction and 'the opulent bric-a-brac earth' as expressed in his 1950 poem, 'Epistomology': Kick at the rocks Sam Johnson, break your bones: But cloudy, cloudy is the stuff of stones. We milk the cow of the world and as we do We whisper in her ear, you are not true.'

'It is respect for reality which makes a necessity of artifice,' Wilbur once wrote.

Critic James E.B. Breslin said Wilbur's first book, 'The Beautiful Changes,' published in 1947, established Wilbur along with Robert Lowell as one of 'the' younger poets.

Much of his work, Wilbur has said, can be 'understood as a public quarrel with the aesthetics of Edgar Allan Poe' and Poe's desire for absolute beauty.

Wilbur graduated from Amherst and Harvard, and served in World War II between degrees with the 36th Infantry at Cassino and Anzio in Italy, and along the Siegfried Line in Germany.

His other works include 'Advice to a Prophet,' (1961); 'The Mind Reader,' (1976); and 'Seven Poems' (1981); 'The Whale and Other Uncollected Translations' (1983); 'Opposites' (1973); and other poems for children.


Wilbur's awards include the Bollingen Prize for Poetry in 1971, the Guggenheim and Ford Foundation fellowships, and the Prix de Rome of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, of which he was president from 1974-76.

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