Thursday, February 24, 2005

Wilbur and But

But I should love this poem. I have written much inferior ones much like it. And there are moments in it that rush my mind. But not my soul. “Shad-time” by Richard Wilbur.

There’s that voice I spoke of earlier, or rather that lack of voice. Sometimes I feel I’m reading clauses and phrases and rhymes (oh my) assembled by a consummate jigsaw artist.

“Though between sullen hills, / Flat intervales, harsh-bristled bank and bank, / The widening river-surface fills / With sky-depth cold and blank,” begins the poem. And did I mention adjectives! But there’s artistry in those lines. He is good, no doubt.

And so by the third stanza we have the obligatory classical reference. “Or as the Thracian strings, / Descending past the bedrock’s muted staves,”: I know this stirs the loins of formalists but it burns my arse (acceptable English variation used here for refined reasons my main man/woman). Why must we always?

But I love this: “With such brave poverties the year / Unstoppably begins.” It’s one of the shortest sentences in the poem and maybe because of that one of the most powerful. The clash of opposites with accompanying alliteration is a sight and sound to behold.

And there is much else to like in this poem. For me: the attention to detail, the almost Jeffers-like inhuman world of nature, the wit and play of words with that world, even the end: “Though cloudily astrew / As rivers soon shall be with scattered roe, / Instant by instant chooses to / Affirm itself and flow.”

But with Wilbur, for me, there’s always a “but.”

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