Wednesday 1 March 2017


March at last, and today is the birthday of America's greatest living poet, Richard Wilbur - 96 today. Here's a poem he wrote to celebrate a fellow poet's birthday -

For K.R. On Her Sixtieth Birthday

Blow out the candles of your cake.
They will not leave you in the dark,
Who round with grace this dusky arc
Of the grand tour which souls must take.

You who have sounded William Blake,
And the still pool, to Plato's mark,
Blow out the candles of your cake.
They will not leave you in the dark.

Yet, for your friends' benighted sake,
Detain your upward-flying spark;
Get us that wish, though like the lark
You whet your wings till dawn shall break:
Blow out the candles of your cake. 

In an interview (when he was a mere 87), Wilbur recalled how he came to write this birthday poem:

'That’s a sort of funny story. I had known briefly the English poet Kathleen Raine, who, as the poem sort of mentions, was not only a poet but was devoted to William Blake, and there were certain people she liked to expound. She was having a birthday; somebody wrote me from England saying that Kathleen’s having a sixtieth birthday, and we want to give her a party and we want to have lots of poems of greeting and celebration, of congratulation, and so will you write one? I remember that it came to me in the middle of the night that I ought to write something to her in the form of a rondeau, but perhaps the initial line that occurred to me proposed that. In any case, I was pleased to wake up and write a poem in the middle of the night, which doesn’t usually happen to me. And before I sent it off to this fellow in England, I got a letter from Kathleen Raine saying so-and-so has been a terrible busy-body, and he’s making people write poems for my birthday and I don’t want you to bother. But I sent it to him and said, “I think I’ve written a good poem and so I’m not going to suppress it.”'

Happy birthday, Mr Wilbur. Somehow the world feels that bit better for your still being in it. 

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