Poets Leading

I stage-whispered, proclaimed, I hollered and I sang to my classes, elementary and secondary, “Readers are LEADERS!” It was an article of faith, the Creature’s Creed, a plea for evidence of things perhaps not unseen but increasingly rare, especially among the young and male. (Unless they are sons of mine, in which case they read with absorption and fury and discrimination. Dad the Lucky.)

I have loved and cited often a passage from the American poet, Richard Wilbur: “What is our praise or pride / But to imagine excellence and try to make it?” But I don’t know his work very well, or very much of it, so I’m reading his recently issued Collected Poems: 1943-2004. I don’t read enough poetry. Maybe you don’t, either. to the rescue! Here’s the full text of Wilbur’s “The Reader”, which I cite in this week’s He Said/She Said… It is a telling artefact of the poem that its “reader” is female, but not a necessary condition! All of us need to visit (and discover all over again) the “realms of gold”…

The Reader

She is going back, these days, to the great stories
That charmed her younger mind. A shaded light
Shines on the nape half-shadowed by her curls,
And a page turns now with a scuffing sound.
Onward they come again, the orphans reaching
For a first handhold in a stony world,
The young provincials who at last look down
On the city’s maze, and will descend into it,
The serious girl, once more, who would live nobly,
The sly one who aspires to marry so,
The young man bent on glory, and that other
Who seeks a burden. Knowing as she does
What will become of them in bloody field
Or Tuscan garden, it may be that at times
She sees their first and final selves at once,
As a god might to whom all time is now.
Or, having lived so much herself, perhaps
She meets them this time with a wiser eye,
Noting that Julien’s calculating head
Is from the first too severed from his heart.
But the true wonder of it is that she,
For all that she may know of consequences,
Still turns enchanted to the next bright page
Like some Natasha in the ballroom door—
Caught in the flow of things wherever bound,
The blind delight of being, ready still
To enter life on life and see them through.

It will mean more if you read it again. Trust me. This is not text messaging. (Well, actually, it is, but you know what I mean.)

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