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  #1  
Unread 04-04-2001, 09:13 PM
cgaver cgaver is offline
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At Moorditch
by Richard Wilbur

"Now," said the voice of lock and window-bar,
"You must confront things as they truly are.
Open your eyes at last, and see
The desolateness of reality."

"Things have," I said, "a pallid, empty look,
Like pictures in an unused coloring book."

"Now that the scales have fallen from your eyes,"
Said the sad hallways, "you must recognize
How childishly your former sight
Salted the world with glory and delight."

"This cannot be the world," I said. "Nor will it,
'Till the heart's crayon spangle and fulfill it."


Inspired by your recent thread, Alan, I thought I'd post my own favorite from Mayflies. The poems recently discussed, "Icons" and "A Wall in the Woods: Cummington," are among the many wonders this book has in store for the reader.

Is anyone planning on attending "Richard Wilbur at 80: A Symposium on His Life and Work" on Saturday, April 28th at Simon's Rock College of Bard?
www.simons-rock.edu

There are hours of panel discussions about Wilbur's work with folks like as Mary Jo Salter and David Ferry. The panel discussions are followed by a reading by Wilbur.

Cynthia
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  #2  
Unread 04-05-2001, 05:11 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Dear Cynthia,

This is likewise a favorite of mine. Moorditch is, I believe, an asylum. Dick fell into a grave depression in the mid-eighties. In France his physicians prescribed precisely the wrong medication, which greatly exacerbated his condition. It would be some years before he wrote lyric verse, and this partially explains the slimness of Mayflies, which a 'Spherian complained of on the Wilbur thread at Discerning Eye. When his biography is written and people finally understand the depths from which poems like these have been written, the facile charges that he is a lightweight will be put to rest.
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  #3  
Unread 04-05-2001, 07:52 PM
ChrisW ChrisW is offline
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I can't imagine anyone thinking him an intellectual lightweight. His poems, this one included, always contain argumentative/intellectual red meat. Here he seems to take on the view, standard since Hume, that value is subjective, something projected onto the world by our own desires -- the world seen objectively is a world without value (as a depressed person would see it). His response seems to be that the world we can know this way is only part of the world -- there is a part of the world that only an engaged heart can know. The image of the crayon (and the verb 'fulfill') then raises some interesting questions about how and in what way we contribute this evaluative element to the world.

Anyway, as I said, surely no one could regard him as an intellectual lightweight. If he's regarded as a lightweight in terms of heart and soul, is this maybe because he is intellectually so brilliant? Some people seem to think that emotion and intellect are necessarily incompatible. I don't believe this -- in fact poetry in my view is (or is often) the attempt to feel a thought and to get others to feel it -- or to think through a feeling. This is something Wilbur does very well. Or maybe people assume that deeply felt poetry must be confessional? Or maybe people think that despair is the only correct reaction to the modern age (to come back to the subject of the poem) and Wilbur's attempt to celebrate the world seems inadequate?

Who calls him a lightweight and on what grounds?

I got the sense that David Perkins thought so in his _History of Modern Poetry_ -- but it's pretty clear that he worships high modernism and thinks everything else is a falling off. And then there's that remark of Jarrell's someone mentioned in another thread, which could be interpreted that way.
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  #4  
Unread 04-06-2001, 06:42 AM
cgaver cgaver is offline
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Lightbulb

Hello Tim and Chris,

I'm glad that this is one of your favorites from Mayflies as well. I have an emotional response to it every time I read because it seems so doggedly hopeful even as the counter argument is presented by the darker voices represented by objects of confinement.

I thought of Cheever when I read your comments Tim. Most assuredly, depression is a force to be reckoned with and often times, the "enemy" is indeed "within." Inventive in language as well as syntax and meter, Wilbur created the term "Moorditch," combining the two words (from Shakespeare's Henry IV) to create a "good name for the sort of hospital where people are treated for depression."

I think, Chris -- though I haven't myself read the thread that implies such -- that the implication of intellectual lightness might be that because Mayflies is a "slim" offering of work that it lacks for something.

Actually, in a time when so many have so much to say and so many forums to do it in, I think it a brave statement that one man takes some ten years to publish a book that offers not only his own meditations, but some beautifully articulate translations of other authors. I also think that many of us my die happy just having carved out the first two lines of "A Barred Owl" or "The Gambler," for instance. And so the issue is not one of quantity but quality.

In all of its eighty pages, I know that can pick up Mayflies and on any page find the work of a master, the essense of pure poetry that has 'pondered what the world's confusion meant when regarded without intent.'
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Unread 04-06-2001, 07:30 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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I think people are perplexed by the redemptive quality in Dick's poems, redemption that springs from his abiding and unfashionable faith (which I lack). Conditioned by the squalid lives of his contemporaries, some wonder "Why didn't you kill yourself?" Seven years ago I wrote him a little song with a cheeky title.

Lament for the Makers

Auden lost in clerihews
Crane vanished on a cruise
Thomas gone at thirty-nine.
Whiskey and wine.

Berryman a suicide
Kees swallowed by the tide
Roethke dragged from his pool.
Laudanum and demerol.

Do you owe longevity
to your art's felicity
or tolerance of pain
acquired grain by grain?
Only you remain.
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  #6  
Unread 04-06-2001, 07:46 AM
wendy v wendy v is offline
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Hmm. I was the "someone" who mentioned the slimness of Mayflies on another thread, but taking my comments out of context doesn't really seem fair. Alan's essay on Wilbur stated that he retains his "full power" -- to which I responded that I knew he was talking quality, not quantity, but the number of poems in the book, and the time it took to complete it suggested to me that, like anybody, Wilbur is feeling his age. I admire his unwillingness to publish unfinished or imperfect poems just for the sake of publishing, but I don't think I've implied him a "lightweight" by any intrepretation. What a strange position for me to be in !

I also saw Bruce Springsteen play for four and a half hours -- and I walked away wanting more. Is that really a bad thing ?

Hrmph.

wendy
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  #7  
Unread 04-06-2001, 08:27 AM
ChrisW ChrisW is offline
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Wendy,
I certainly didn't have you in mind in this discussion -- I got the impression Tim was alluding to a view of Wilbur held largely outside Eratosphere.
--Chris
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  #8  
Unread 04-06-2001, 09:53 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Wendy, I didn't mean to cast aspersions your way--far from it! When Dick gave us the typescript, he expressed concern that it was way too small for a book; and our response was its quality more than made up for that. I sent the typescript to Gwynn and he quoted Spencer Tracy's immortal line, "There ain't much meat on her, but what there is, is cherce."
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  #9  
Unread 04-06-2001, 10:18 AM
wendy v wendy v is offline
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I got it, Tim. Not feeling defensive anymore, but I still could'a used more. More of him to love.

You know, I always have to restrain myself not asking you guys about his health. Hope he's well.


wendy
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  #10  
Unread 04-06-2001, 10:56 AM
cgaver cgaver is offline
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As do I, Wendy. And I think wanting more is the ideal. It brings us back to the author and his or her work again.....Sorry if your word was taken out of context...

Tim, I think your comment about redemption is insightful and honest. There's an ineluctable quality of hope in so much of Wilbur's work...

And, again, I'm curious if anyone is going to hear Wilbur read at the end of this month?

Cynthia
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