WRITING AND RIDING: RICHARD WILBUR BATTLES LOUISE GLUCK

Here is the game.  The contest.  We present the two poems: first Wilbur’s, then Gluck’s:

THE WRITER

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.

HORSE

What does the horse give you
That I cannot give you?

I watch you when you are alone,
When you ride into the field behind the dairy,
Your hands buried in the mare’s
Dark mane.

Then I know what lies behind your silence:
Scorn, hatred of me, of marriage. Still,
You want me to touch you; you cry out
As brides cry, but when I look at you I see
There are no children in your body.
Then what is there?

Nothing, I think. Only haste
To die before I die.

In a dream, I watched you ride the horse
Over the dry fields and then
Dismount: you two walked together;
In the dark, you had no shadows.
But I felt them coming toward me
Since at night they go anywhere,
They are their own masters.

Look at me. You think I don’t understand?
What is the animal
If not passage out of this life?

Wilbur (his poem is from Dove’s anthology) is logical and playful—that combination of which formal properties in the verse usually result.  It is a man anxious to be reasonable and understood.  Wilbur responds to the world in visions of happy quantity: the house is a ship. The bird sails through the window.  My daughter is at the typewriter now.

Gluck (not in the Dove) is neither logical nor playful.  She is mystical and serious.  She speaks as people speak when you overhear them; when they are not speaking to you, when they are not trying to explain anything to you, because you are merely evesdropping. 

Wilbur’s poem is earnest and polite; Gluck’s is a cry in the night.

Gluck 69 Wilbur 68

Louise Gluck has upset the master!

2 Comments

  1. June 27, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    “Young poets are extremely sensitive, and unfortunately for them, they cannot turn this sensitivity on and off like a bathroom faucet. It is always with them. A falling leaf becomes a matter for universal grief, and the small disagreeable encounters of daily human life are equally magnified: they become literally the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune; and the only reason why the poet does not soon fall, mortally stricken, is because the sheer excitement of living is more powerful than the hurt of his wounds. But there are compensations for his misery: he has moments of exaltation that make him feel like an eagle soaring against the sun; his mind is crowded with images so beautiful that he cannot ever hope to describe them; and on rare occasions a phrase or a line will suddenly blossom inside his skull like a flower opening in the darkness, and he will be so delighted by this unexpected happening that even after he has set the words down, he will sit there staring at them and wondering: ‘How in the world did I ever think of that…?'”

    • thomasbrady said,

      June 27, 2012 at 3:56 pm

      This is a solid summary of the art…but I notice it is equated with “young poets” and not all poets, or mature poets. I also notice that the truth of this analysis is in direct ratio to its similarity to a Romantic Poet trope.

      This is all very fine, but when Romantic poets are associated with youth, it presents the mistaken idea that a lout, with no poetry in him, just because he’s old—think of Ezra Pound, or some other grizzled ‘modern’—is the more “mature,” and thus, the better poet.

      Poe said poetry was for the young. Old men should move on to something else. But as Modernism ruined poetry by ‘moving on’ from the poetry of the Romantics, we see, in history, the reverse occured. Old men should move on to something else, but Modernism was about old men doing the opposite, and spoiling poetry for the young—and the public at large.


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