Friday, December 1, 2006

Richard Wilbur, "The Beautiful Changes"

One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides
The Queen Anne's Lace lying like lilies
On water; it glides
So from the walker, it turns
Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of you
Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes.

The beautiful changes as the forest is changed
By a chameleon's tuning his skin to it;
As a mantis, arranged
On a green leaf, grows
Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves
Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows.

Your hands hold roses always in a way that says
They are not only yours; the beautiful changes
In such kind ways,
Wishing ever to sunder
Things and things' selves for a second finding, to lose
For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.


From: The Beautiful Changes and Other Poems (1947)

To conclude the week, this delicate poem by the eminent Richard Wilbur (b. March 1 - we share the same birthday! - 1921), whose work has been criticized by some (I believe unfairly) for being too positive, as well as too formally deft. Last year I wrote an essay partly on Wilbur's (and, in comparison, Wallace Stevens') sense of the vitality of imaginative transformation. This may serve as a segue into next week's theme: the Ars Poetica, or a poem dealing with the art and purpose of poetry (Wilbur's own extended meditation on the subject, the masterpiece "Lying", may make an appearance ... we'll see!).
In this poem the composition subtly reinforces the sense of transformation - as Blake wrote, "The eye altering, alters all" - from the "turns" of the line-breaks in the first stanza, to the unconventional use of select nouns and verbs throughout: "the slightest shade of you / Valleys my mind", "a mantis, arranged / On a green leaf", and, of course, "The beatiful changes". Though Wilbur would generally not be taken to use modernist defamiliarization, his work and this poem perhaps reveal the wide applicability of such notions as that expressed by Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky: "Art exists that one may recover the sensation of life, it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony." For Wilbur, such "a second finding" is one of "wonder." Such wonder is a transcendent potential, always present in everyday "things" ... "The beautiful" that changes - when we engage with the world, or when we read poetry - is at once our perception and ourselves.

(More about Richard Wilbur, including audio:
(More poems by Richard Wilbur:

1 comment:

Saha said...

What a great poem Evan, thanks for posting! And now I have a poem a day in my RSS feed, something I've always wanted.