cover image COLLECTED POEMS: 1943–2004


Richard Wilbur, . . Harcourt, $30 (585pp) ISBN 978-0-15-101105-6

During the early 1950s, no young poet was more admired, nor more imitated, than Wilbur: his elegant stanzas and courteous artifice, devoted to "wit and wakefulness," modest ironies and "small strict shape," fit the careful, even chastised, postwar mood. Five decades and eight books later, Wilbur shows undiminished—and still acknowledged—powers: New Formalists and devotees of Robert Frost find Wilbur a favorite modern model, while readers with broader tastes nevertheless cherish his new excellence in old modes. This expansive and definitive volume (supplanting his Pulitzer Prize–winning 1987 New and Collected Poems ) incorporates his strong 2000 book Mayflies , along with 13 new poems which (like Mayflies ) alternate nostalgic affection with learned humor: a Frostian lyric set in Key West considers "houses built on sand" which nevertheless "glow like the settings of some noble play." The poet's 1960s and 1970s writings (especially The Mind-Reader ) seem here overdue for revival, while his meticulous translations (from Latin, French, Russian and Spanish) comprise a too-often-neglected part of the whole. Wilbur has also won acclaim as a translator of verse plays, a writer of verse for children, and a Broadway lyricist; a brief appendix holds "show lyrics" from Candide (1956), and a much longer one collects his five children's books, among them Opposites (1973) and More Opposites (1991): "The opposite of fast is loose ,/ And if you doubt it you're a goose." (Dec.)