Richard Wilbur is the only living American poet to have won the
Pulitzer Prize twice. The second Poet Laureate of the United States and
recipient of countless honors and awards, including the Bollingen Prize,
two PEN translation awards, and two Guggenheim Fellowships, he has displayed
consistent eloquence and artistry over a career that spans more than
half a century.
After a “rather solitary” childhood in the New Jersey countryside,
Wilbur attended Amherst College and Harvard University. Having spent several
college summers as a “privileged hobo” hitchhiking and riding the
rails, followed by stints as a cryptographer and an infantryman in the Army during
WWII, he brought to his poetry the richness of life experience, as well as formal
education. Wilbur’s first book, The Beautiful Changes, was published
in 1947 to much critical acclaim; the publication of the second, Ceremony
and Other Poems, cemented his reputation as America’s finest poet writing
in traditional meters and forms. Wilbur once said in an interview: “If
one chooses form rightly, one is not submitting to the demands of the form but
making use of it at every moment. . . . [and] the very words we use if we are
writing careful poetry engage us . . . in a conversation with all the poetry
that has ever been written”.
Wilbur’s varied literary output of over thirty-five books has included
poetry, prose, children’s books, a collection of essays, plays, translations,
and editorial work on the collected poems of Shakespeare and Poe. The most prolific
and gifted translator of Molière world-wide, Wilbur is credited with the
explosive revival of his plays in North America, beginning in 1955 with The
Misanthrope. Wilbur’s translations of Molière, Racine, Apollinaire,
and others, are widely praised for incorporating the spirit of both language
and author, while maintaining the original form and rhyme scheme.
Having served on the faculties of Harvard, Wellesley, Wesleyan, and Smith (where
he is Poet Emeritis), Wilbur is now retired from teaching, and lives in Cummington,
Massachusetts and in Key West, Florida. His new book of poems is Mayflies.