The Looking Glass : New Perspectives on Children's Literature, Vol 6, No 1 (2002)

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Laying Claim to the World: The "Glorious Energy" of Richard Wilbur's Poetry for Childre

Millicent Lenz

Abstract


Richard Wilbur (1921- ) was born in New York City and spent his childhood in North Caldwell, New Jersey, in a rural setting conducive to his love of nature. He graduated from Amherst College (1942), married Mary Charlotte Hayes Ward of Boston (an alumna of Smith College; the couple has four children), and served in World War II with the 36th 'Texas' Division in Europe. He began writing poems during the chaos of war as a (to quote Robert Frost) "'momentary stay against confusion.'" Returning home, Wilbur did graduate work in English at Harvard, and upon the completion of his degree (A.M. 1947) became a junior fellow on the Harvard faculty. In the same year he brought out his first volume of poems, The Beautiful Changes and Other Poems. Continuing at Harvard until 1954, he went on to teach at Wellesley College and Wesleyan University, and from 1977 until his retirement in 1986 served as writer-in-residence at Smith College.

Over his long and prolific career as a teacher, poet, translator, critic, and editor, Wilbur has won a prodigious number of awards, including the Pulitzer prize and National Book Award for his Things of This World (both 1957) , served as poetry consultant at the Library of Congress and as poet laureate of the U.S. (1987-88). His English translations of the French dramatists Molière and Racine are considered the definitive versions; his translation of Tartuffe won the Bollingen Prize (1971). New and Collected Poems (1988) garnered a second Pulitzer. His work for children has won numerous awards, including Book World's Children's Spring Book Festival award (1973) for Opposites: Poems and Drawings.

The craftsmanship and elegance of his poetry, with its reflections on natural phenomena and meditations on spiritual and metaphysical topics, is universally praised. His verse written specifically for young readers, celebrated for its 'wit,' radiates an ageless appeal.

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The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

ISBN 1551-5680