9 Richard Wilbur Quotes To Inspire Your Inner Poet To Get To Work

by Kerri Jarema
Nancy Palmieri/Associated Press

In case you missed it: Richard Wilbur, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, translator and lyricist died at the age of 96. Wilbur is known as one of the most preeminent poets of the 20th century, and his list of accolades attest to that fact: he succeeded Robert Penn Warren to become the second poet laureate of the United States; he won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for his collection Things of This World, and a second Pulitzer for New and Collected Poems; he won the Wallace Stevens Award, the Frost Medal, the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry, two Bollingen Prizes, the T.S. Eliot Award, the Edna St. Vincent Millay Memorial Award, the Prix de Rome Fellowship and many more honors, fellowships and awards for his poetry.

According to the Poetry Foundation, Wilbur’s grandfather and great-grandfather were both editors, and Wilbur showed an early interest in journalism. As a student at Amherst College in the early 1940s, Wilbur wrote stories, editorials, and poems for his college newspaper and magazine. His experience as a soldier in World War II, however, drove him to “versify in earnest.” His verse was known for adopting a classical approach, while maintaining a unique lyrical elegance that defied the more popular freestyle and confessional poetry of the time.

Wilbur's work will surely remain and inspiration for poets everywhere, but unsurprisingly he also had many nuggets of wisdom to impart to the next generation about the actual act of sitting down and getting to work. If the nine quotes below don't get your butt in the chair, nothing will.

"Writing poetry is talking to oneself; yet it is a mode of talking to oneself in which the self disappears; and the product's something that, though it may not be for everybody, is about everybody."

"It is true that the poet does not directly address his neighbors; but he does address a great congress of persons who dwell at the back of his mind, a congress of all those who have taught him and whom he has admired; they constitute his ideal audience and his better self."

"All that we do is touched with ocean, and yet we remain on the shore of what we know."

"Step off assuredly into the blank of your own mind. Something will come to you. Although at first You nod through nothing like a fogbound prow, Gravel will breed in the margins of your gaze."

"I would feel dead if I didn't have the ability periodically to put my world in order with a poem. I think to be inarticulate is a great suffering, and is especially so to anyone who has a certain knack for poetry."

"We know what boredom is: it is a dull Impatience or a fierce velleity, A champing wish, stalled by our lassitude, To make or do. In the strict sense, of course, We invent nothing, merely bearing witness To what each morning brings again to light."

"What's lightly hid is deepest understood."

"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."

"Writing is waiting for the word that may not be there until next Tuesday."