Saturday 6 April 2013

Wilbur Again: 'Here something stubborn comes...'

Sunshine off and on today, strengthening the sense that soon a proper Spring will at last be under way. Here's something seasonal from the inexhaustible riches of Richard Wilbur's Collected Poems...

Seed Leaves

Here something stubborn comes,
Dislodging the earth crumbs
And making crusty rubble.
it comes up bending double,
And looks like a green staple.
It could be seedling maple,
Or artichoke, or bean.
That remains to be seen.
Forced to make choice of ends,
The stalk in time unbends,
Shakes off the seed-case, heaves
Aloft, and spreads two leaves
Which still display no sure
And special signature.
Toothless and fat, they keep
The oval form of sleep.
This plant would like to grow
And yet be embryo;
Increase, and yet escape
The doom of taking shape;
Be vaguely vast, and climb
To the tip end of time
With all of space to fill,
Like boundless Igdrasil
That has the stars for fruit.
But something at the root
More urgent that the urge
Bids two true leaves emerge;
And now the plant, resigned
To being self-defined
Before it can commerce
With the great universe,
Takes aim at all the sky
And starts to ramify.

I love the second stanza in particular - 'heaves aloft', 'the oval form of sleep'... By the way, Igdrasil (or Yggdrasil) is the immense ash tree that's central to Norse cosmology.
Seed Leaves is subtitled Homage To R.F. and the influence of Robert Frost is clear enough. Wilbur knew him as friend, mentor and source of encouragement when he was at Harvard graduate school on the GI Bill after the war (and, by happy chance, Wilbur's wife's great aunt had encouraged Frost when he was starting out as a poet). In an interview, Wilbur - who had (and might still have?) many of Frost's poems by heart - summed up his admiration, and his debt, thus:

'His poems always seemed to me to be a wonder and an inimitable model: I had no wish to ape his work, but it made me seek for a speaking voice, for meter and rhyme which worked as if by accident and for plain situations having overtones.'

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