The Catbird's Song is a selection of prose pieces, on a variety of topics, by one of the most distinguished poets and translators of our times, Richard Wilbur. These lectures, letters, reviews, addresses, prefaces, and interviews-what Wilbur calls the "prose by-products of a poet's life"-not only reveal the ideas and concerns that inform his remarkable oeuvre but also offer fresh takes on the works and lives of poets we thought we knew, poets we ought to know, and much more. Here, then, are his appreciations of Poe, Milton, Tennyson, and Longfellow; paeans to his contemporaries Elizabeth Bishop, Mae Swenson, and John Ciardi; an introduction to the work of the neglected poet Witter Bynner; his comments on some of his own poems; and thoughts on the art of translation. Throughout all, Wilbur's voice resonates with clarity, reason, and authority.
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RICHARD WILBUR, one of America’s most beloved poets, has served as poet laureate of the United States. He has received the National Book Award, two Pulitzer Prizes, the National Arts Club medal of honor for literature, and a number of translation prizes, including two Bollingen Prizes and two awards from PEN.Review:
Readers of this second gathering of Wilbur's occasional prose may be surprised by melancholy undercurrents swelling below the book's expectedly sane and sunny acumen; beneath a tempered surface creep, like Milton's Lucifer, darker subjects. One of the most emotionally complicated pieces is a commentary on his own "Cottage Street, 1953," a poem recounting his strained first meeting with a young Sylvia Plath. Set into relief by the collection's other discussions--Longfellow's "troubled, wavering Ulysses," for example, or Robert Frost's "mental instability that was part of his inheritance (as of mine)"--the poem seems to relate not only an "actual visit," but Wilbur's ongoing encounter with depressive tendencies: "I am better acquainted with depression and alienation than some who romanticize them." Wilbur's analyses of the life and work of poets "shame the Devil" with their sympathetic lucidity, and effect their own particular triumph over despair, that "arch-negator, sprung / from Hell . . . dragging down / And darkening with moody self-absorption."
Copyright © 1996, Boston Review. All rights reserved. -- From The Boston Review
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