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.