The dates in the title tell of Richard Wilbur’s remarkable longevity. Once a youthful prodigy, he became part of poetry anthologies 30 years ago. By now Wilbur is a grizzled eminence, known at least vaguely to most Americans who pay any attention to poetry.
Like many poets of his generation, he wrote well-crafted formal poems in the 1940s and ’50s, when conservatism dominated both poetry and politics. Unlike poets such as Robert Lowell, Adrienne Rich and James Wright, however, he was not tempted by the experiments with form and subject matter that came during the ’60s. Long eclipsed both by the work of his more pyrotechnic peers and by the sheer number of poets clamoring for attention, Wilbur’s star may be on the rise once again as political and poetic fashions move in rough parallel and New Formalists like National Endowment for the Arts chair Dana Gioia labor to bring formal verse back into fashion.