(Poem #322) In the Smoking Car
The eyelids meet. He'll catch a little nap. The grizzled, crew-cut head drops to his chest. It shakes above the briefcase on his lap. Close voices breathe, "Poor sweet, he did his best." "Poor sweet, poor sweet," the bird-hushed glades repeat, Through which in quiet pomp his litter goes, Carried by native girls with naked feet. A sighing stream concurs in his repose. Could he but think, he might recall to mind The righteous mutiny or sudden gale That beached him here; the dear ones left behind ... So near the ending, he forgets the tale. Were he to lift his eyelids now, he might Behold his maiden porters, brown and bare. But even here he has no appetite. It is enough to know that they are there. Enough that now a honeyed music swells, The gentle, mossed declivities begin, And the whole air is full of flower-smells. Failure, the longed-for valley, takes him in.
An interesting poem - not brilliant, but I like the theme, and it's handled well enough. The poem is enjoyable not so much for the imagery as for the tone, which balances humour and warm sympathy nicely, with perhaps a hint of commiseration, and some lovely lines like 'So near the ending, he forgets the tale'. The poem also presents a somewhat wry look at today's rather pervasive success-oriented culture - the very stereotypicality of the character makes the reader realise that a good many people would rather inhabit a comfortable dreamworld than cope with the real one, desiring no better epitaph than 'poor sweet, he did his best'. Links: While this poem has echoes of Thurber's Walter Mitty and Schulz's Charlie Brown, neither analogy is that strong. More interesting is to compare it to Robinson's "Miniver Cheevy", a far harsher look at a similar misfit: poem #234 Biography: Wilbur, Richard (Purdy) b. March 1, 1921, New York, N.Y., U.S. American poet associated with the New Formalist movement. Wilbur was educated at Amherst College, Amherst, Mass., and Harvard University, where he studied literature. He fought in Europe during World War II and earned a master's degree from Harvard in 1947. With The Beautiful Changes and Other Poems (1947) and Ceremony and Other Poems (1950), he established himself as an important young writer. These early poems are technically exquisite and formal in their adherence to the convention of rhyme and other devices. Wilbur next tried translating and in 1955 produced a version of Molière's play Le Misanthrope, which was followed by Molière's Tartuffe (1963), The School for Wives (1971), and The Learned Ladies (1978) and by Racine's Andromache (1982). In 1957 he won a Pulitzer Prize for poetry for Things of This World: Poems (1956), which was enthusiastically hailed as less perfect but more personal than his previous poetry. Wilbur wrote within the poetic tradition launched by T.S. Eliot, using irony and intellect to create tension in his poems. Some critics demanded more energy from his poems; this complaint was partially assuaged with the publication of Advice to a Prophet and Other Poems (1961), Walking to Sleep (1969), and The Mind Reader: New Poems (1976). He also wrote the lyrics for Leonard Bernstein's acclaimed musical comedy version of Candide (1957), children's books such as Loudmouse (1963) and Opposites (1973), and criticism, collected as Responses: Prose PiecesHe was poet laureate of the United States in 1987-88. -- EB