Greatest Living American Poet?

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Richard Purdy Wilbur — American poet and literary translator, second Poet Laureate of the United States and Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (1987), two-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1957 and again in 1989), New York City native who published his first poem when he was only eight-years-old — was born March 1st, 1921.

He is 93 years young today.

A good argument can be made that he is America’s greatest living poet.

I, for one, have been influenced by several of his poems.

He’s a formal (sometimes neo-formal) poet whose language is modern and almost always intelligible — a relative rarity in that bucal-fecal carnival called modern poetry.

Here’s a poem of his I first read many years ago, one that’s remained among my all-time favorites — a lesser-known poem, to be sure, every line of which rhymes — about a toad upon whom a freak accident falls. What’s always moved me most about this poem is the dignity that Richard Wilbur gives to his little guy:

Death of a Toad

A toad the power mower caught,
Chewed and clipped of a leg, with a hobbling hop has got
To the garden verge, and sanctuaried him
Under the cineraria leaves, in the shade
Of the ashen and heartshaped leaves, in a dim,
Low, and a final glade.

The rare original heartsblood goes,
Spends in the earthen hide, in the folds and wizenings, flows
In the gutters of the banked and staring eyes. He lies
As still as if he would return to stone,
And soundlessly attending, dies
Toward some deep monotone,

Toward misted and ebullient seas
And cooling shores, toward lost Amphibia’s emperies.
Day dwindles, drowning and at length is gone
In the wide and antique eyes, which still appear
To watch, across the castrate lawn,
The haggard daylight steer.

Happy Birthday, Richard Wilbur.Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 2.30.20 PM


  • Micky

    March 10, 2014

    All of a sudden I feel really shitty about smashing those toads with my Schwinn Stingray.

  • Ray

    March 10, 2014

    You son-of-a-bitch!

  • Micky

    March 10, 2014

    We used to have tons of toads here in the isles. After a good rain there’d be toads all over the road.
    They’d get run over, guts shot out their asses and mouths to the curb. After a couple days they’d dry out into these leathery pancakes with eyes, get picked up by the wind and make an awful racket.
    Then some sort of Silent Spring happened and they disappeared to where you’re lucky if you come across one a year.
    As kids we used to go to the stream and catch oodles of tadpoles so we could take them home and watch em turn, or use them as bait when catfishing.
    Same for the Mongoose. We used to have millions always darting across the highway, eating the feral chickens and their eggs.
    My suspicion is the Igrit, a bird that looks much like a miniature white Stork, not indigenous to the islands, just up and appeared right before the Mongoose and toads disappeared.
    Now we have fcking chickens everywhere.

    Yeah, we used to pull wheelies and see if we could drop the front tire right on the toad. The guy who got the best guts projectile was the winner.
    What I would give to have back just one of the Toads that I treated like a tube of toothpaste.

  • Ray

    March 11, 2014

    That was good, Micky. Very good.

    Until you got sentimental on me there at the end.

  • Micky

    March 11, 2014

    Yeah, poetry does that to me.
    Later that night I asked my wife if she felt like making love.
    She said; “Make love ?
    Whatever happened to just asking for a fuck ?”

  • Jim Haneberg

    March 21, 2014

    Your post inspired me to borrow a Richard Wilbur book from the library. Good stuff.

  • Ray

    March 22, 2014

    Hi Jim!

    Long time. Thank you for your comment, and thank you for dropping by.

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