Wednesday 8 December 2021


 Among my presents yesterday was a very welcome copy of Richard Wilbur's New and Collected Poems (Harcourt Brace, 1988). This handsome edition will replace my Collected Poems 1943-2004 (Waywiser, 2005), which, though obviously more complete, is not an attractive volume and, being too thick for its binding, has split in half along the spine. 
  After an initial flick through the New & Collected, I decided to open it at random (the Sortes Wilburianae) and see what I found. And I struck gold – this:

Part of a Letter

Easy as cove-water rustles its pebbles and shells
In the slosh, spread, seethe, and the backsliding
Wallop and tuck of the wave, and just that cheerful,
             Tables and earth were riding

Back and forth in the minting shades of the trees.
There were whiffs of anise, a clear clinking 
Of coins and glasses, a still crepitant sound
            Of the earth in the garden drinking

The late rain. Rousing again, the wind
Was swashing the shadows in relay races
Of sun-spangles over the hands and clothes
           And the drinkers' dazzled faces,

So that when somebody spoke, and asked the question
Comment s'apelle cet arbre-là?
A girl had gold on her tongue, and gave the answer:
          Ca, c'est l'acacia.

Not a big, showy poem, but a perfect miniature, demonstrating Wilbur's technical mastery, his feel for light and water, his brilliant evocation of scene and mood, the music of his language, the exuberant sense of joy and plentitude that his best poems convey. It's from his second collection, Ceremony and Other Poems, and somehow I had never come across it before.
  And then this morning, browsing in one of my local charity shops, I spotted Thom Gunn's Poems 1950-1966: A Selection – the 1969 Faber paperback, in astonishingly good condition, priced at, er, £1.00. It is now, needless to say, mine. 

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