Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Richard Wilbur (b. 1921) is part of a notable literary cohort, American poets who came to prominence in the mid-twentieth century. Wilbur’s verse is esteemed for its fluency, wit, and optimism; his ingeniously rhymed translations of French drama by Molière, Racine, and Corneille remain the most often staged in the English-speaking world; his essays possess a scope and acumen equal to the era’s best criticism. This biography examines the philosophical and visionary depth of his world-renowned poetry and traces achievements spanning seventy years, from political editorials about World War II to war poems written during his service to his theatrical career, including a contentious collaboration with Leonard Bernstein and Lillian Hellman.
Wilbur’s life has been mistakenly seen as blessed, lacking the drama of his troubled contemporaries. Let Us Watch Richard Wilbur corrects that view and explores how Wilbur’s perceived “normality” both enhanced and limited his achievement. The authors augment the life story with details gleaned from access to his unpublished journals, family archives, candid interviews they conducted with Wilbur and his wife, Charlee, and his correspondence with Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, John Berryman, John Malcolm Brinnin, James Merrill, and others.