In memory of Richard Wilbur (1921–2017)


Robert Bagg and Mary Bagg, authors of Let Us Watch Richard Wilbur: A Biographical Study, reflect upon Richard Wilbur's life and legacy by turning to two poems that bookend his career. "The Beautiful Changes" comes from his first collection and "A Measuring Worm" from Anterooms, his final collection of new poems and translations. As they told the Springfield Republican earlier this week"Richard Wilbur impressed everyone who knew him not only because of his talent and literary achievement but also because he had a tremendous capacity for generosity, grace, and humility."

Throughout his decades-long career, he drew upon the natural world for metaphors that give meaning to human existence.

Stanza 2 of “The Beautiful Changes” (from The Beautiful Changes, 1947)

The beautiful changes as a forest is changed

By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it;

As a mantis, arranged

On a green leaf, grows

Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves

Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows.


“A Measuring Worm” (from Anterooms, 2010)

This yellow striped green

Caterpillar, climbing up

The steep window screen,

Constantly (for lack

Of a full set of legs) keeps

Humping up his back.

It’s as if he sent

By a sort of semaphore

Dark omegas meant

To warn of Last Things.

Although he doesn’t know it,

He will soon have wings,

And I, too, don’t know

Toward what undreamt condition

Inch by inch I go.

[Photo courtesy of the Wilbur family.]

UPDATE: See the Baggs read and reminisce in this November 1 tribute to Wilbur, sponsored by Amherst College's Center for Humanistic Inquiry and the English Department.