Richard Wilbur at Johns Hopkins
Anyone who views Johns Hopkins as a campus full of eyes-to-the-ground engineers and scientists should have been at Richard Wilbur's poetry reading last night (thanks to Brigitte Warner and RadarRedux.com for this video). More than 200 students packed a lecture hall to hear the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate speak on topics ranging from late-night television to the hopes and fears we hold for our children.
Delivering the Turnbull Poetry Lecture, Wilbur, 88, didn't speak much about the work of the poet, or the purpose of poetry. He did say that poetry should move beyond "lilies and swans" to describe our fears -- and thus help to tame them. And he noted that his poetry is not very introspective or self-engaging. Throughout the evening, he was witty and humble.
Reading often from Collected Poems 1943-2004, he showed an expansive yet almost effortless range. He began with several riddles translated from Latin, noting that that form of poetry was once -- before being relegated to the nursery -- regarded highly because it relied on metaphors connecting diverse ideas. Other poems arose from the simple rhythms of life on his Massachusetts farm; here is "Crow's Nest":
That lofty stand of trees beyond the field, / Which in the storms of summer stood revealed
As a great fleet of galleons bound our way / Across a moiled expanse of tossing hay,
Full-rigged and swift, and to the topmost sail / Taking their fill and pleasure of the gale,
Now, in this leafless time, are ships no more, / Though it would not be hard to take them for
A roadtead full of naked mast and spar / In which we see now where the crow's nests are.