Poem of the Week, by Richard Wilbur

Calligraphy letters, 2011When it came to homework, I was kind of a hands-off mother, a mother whose life –and whose children’s lives– became instantly better when I made the decision to quit checking the portal. (The portal. The portal. The portal of hell.) My children never asked me to look at or edit their papers, so I didn’t, and when it came to math, I couldn’t help them anyway. But my youngest daughter preferred to do her homework, especially essay assignments, at the dining table when I was working. She would write her papers, I would write my stories. This daughter works best with solid blocks of time, earbuds in and playlist on, while her mother at the other end of the table twitches and rocks and grinds her teeth, trying trying trying to get the words out. My sleek iridescent child, my clattering commotion of keys. This poem feels as if it came straight out of my own heart. 


The Writer, by Richard Wilbur

In her room at the prow of the house
where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
my daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
from her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
as if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which

the whole house seems to be thinking,
and then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
of strokes, and again is silent.

I remember the dazed starling
which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
how we stole in, lifted a sash

and retreated, not to affright it;
and how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
we watched the sleek, wild, dark

and iridescent creature
batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
to the hard floor, or the desk-top,

and wait then, humped and bloody,
for the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
rose when, suddenly sure,

it lifted off from a chair-back, 
beating a smooth course for the right window
and clearing the sill of the world.

It is always a matter, my darling,
of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
what I wished you before, but harder. 


For more information on Richard Wilbur, please click here.

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  1. jpenna2013 · July 24, 2017

    Many thanks for posting this. I think this is one of the most beautiful of Wilbur’s poems….and the freest in a way, with no definable form except the long middle line in the three line stanzas. You have a nice blog here.


  2. alisonmcghee · August 12, 2017

    Thank you, for the comment and for the kind words about the blog. (And my apologies for not responding earlier – I only just noticed your comment today. I truly love this poem too.


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