cover image Mayflies: New Poems and Translations

Mayflies: New Poems and Translations

Richard Wilbur. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $22 (96pp) ISBN 978-0-15-100469-0

Two-time Pulitzer-winner Wilbur remains America's reigning master of poems in traditional forms, creating flawless, balanced, charming and even profound couplets, sonnets, sapphics, and intricately custom-made stanzas. This first volume since the 1989 New and Selected brings together 22 new poems, six renderings of lyric poems from French, Romanian and Bulgarian, and two longer verse translations--from Moliere's Amphitryon and Dante's Inferno. The new short poems (many of which have appeared in the New Yorker) include some of Wilbur's best. The touching, clever and Frostian ""A Barred Owl"" shows how the owl's cry (""Who Cooks for you?"") can soothe or disturb, depending on circumstance and interpretation; ""At Moorditch"" accomplishes a brief and visionary defense of imagination. Several poems apply Wilbur's careful sensibility to the rigors of tanka and haiku. Wilbur admires order, control and grace while looking toward the voids and terrors they counteract: the couplets in ""Crows' Nest"" give new life to the old figure of maturity as a bare field, while the extended ""This Pleasing, Anxious Being"" looks back on remembered childhood with the apprehensions and glimmerings of old age. In ""For C."" Wilbur finds in a long happy marriage the virtues we might ascribe to his own verse: ""A passion joined to courtesy and art/ Which has the quality of something made/ Like a good fiddle, like the rose's scent,/ Like a rose window or the firmament."" (Apr.) FYI: Wilbur's Responses: Prose Pieces 1953-1976 was reissued last month in an expanded edition (Story Line, $16.95 paper 352p ISBN 1-885266-82-0).