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In the Smoking Car -- Richard Wilbur

       
(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.
-- Richard Wilbur
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

8 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

StEpHdAwGg007 said...

AHHHHH IS THIS THE RICHARD WILBUR BORN IN 1921? I NEED TO KNOW THIS ASAP FOR
A SCHOOL PROJECT.....tHANK-YOU..*sTEPHANIE*

TLynnO7 said...

yes it is the same Richard Wilbur

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