Richard Purdy Wilbur — American poet and literary translator, second Poet Laureate of the United States and Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (1987), two-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1957 and again in 1989), New York City native who published his first poem when he was only eight-years-old — was born March 1st, 1921.
He is 93 years young today.
A good argument can be made that he is America’s greatest living poet.
He’s a formal (sometimes neo-formal) poet whose language is modern and almost always intelligible — a relative rarity today in that bucal-fecal carnival called modern poetry.
Here’s a poem of his I first read many years ago, one that’s remained among my all-time favorites — a lesser-known poem, every line of which rhymes — about a toad upon whom a freak accident like a guillotine falls. What’s always moved me most about this piece is the dignity that Richard Wilbur imparts upon his little guy:
Death of a Toad
A toad the power mower caught,
Chewed and clipped of a leg, with a hobbling hop has got
To the garden verge, and sanctuaried him
Under the cineraria leaves, in the shade
Of the ashen and heartshaped leaves, in a dim,
Low, and a final glade.
The rare original heartsblood goes,
Spends in the earthen hide, in the folds and wizenings, flows
In the gutters of the banked and staring eyes. He lies
As still as if he would return to stone,
And soundlessly attending, dies
Toward some deep monotone,
Toward misted and ebullient seas
And cooling shores, toward lost Amphibia’s emperies.
Day dwindles, drowning and at length is gone
In the wide and antique eyes, which still appear
To watch, across the castrate lawn,
The haggard daylight steer.