Advice to a Mad Prophet

by Richard Wilbur

When you come, as you soon must, to the streets of our city,   
Mad-eyed from stating the obvious, 
Not proclaiming our fall but begging us 
In God’s name to have self-pity, 
Spare us all word of the weapons, their force and range,   
The long numbers that rocket the mind; 
Our slow, unreckoning hearts will be left behind,   
Unable to fear what is too strange. 
Nor shall you scare us with talk of the death of the race.   
How should we dream of this place without us?— 
The sun mere fire, the leaves untroubled about us,   
A stone look on the stone’s face? 
Speak of the world’s own change. Though we cannot conceive   
Of an undreamt thing, we know to our cost 
How the dreamt cloud crumbles, the vines are blackened by frost,   
How the view alters. We could believe, 
If you told us so, that the white-tailed deer will slip   
Into perfect shade, grown perfectly shy, 
The lark avoid the reaches of our eye, 
The jack-pine lose its knuckled grip 
On the cold ledge, and every torrent burn 
As Xanthus once, its gliding trout 
Stunned in a twinkling. What should we be without   
The dolphin’s arc, the dove’s return, 
These things in which we have seen ourselves and spoken?   
Ask us, prophet, how we shall call 
Our natures forth when that live tongue is all 
Dispelled, that glass obscured or broken 
In which we have said the rose of our love and the clean   
Horse of our courage, in which beheld 
The singing locust of the soul unshelled, 
And all we mean or wish to mean. 
Ask us, ask us whether with the worldless rose   
Our hearts shall fail us; come demanding   
Whether there shall be lofty or long standing   
When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.

A Chronic Condition

by Richard Wilbur

Berkeley did not foresee such misty weather,
Nor centuries of light
Intend so dim a day. Swaddled together
In separateness, the trees
Persist or not beyond the gray-white
Palings of the air. Gone
Are whatever wings bothered the lighted leaves
When leaves there were. Are all
The sparrows fallen? I can hardly hear
My memory of those bees
Which only lately mesmerized the lawn.
Now, something, blaze! A fear
Swaddles me now that Hylas’ tree will fall
Where no eye lights and grieves,
Will fall to nothing and without a sound.

I sway and lean above the vanished ground.

Link to an essay about the references in this poem.


After the Last Bulletins

by Richard Wilbur

After the last bulletins the windows darken 
And the whole city founders readily and deep, 
Sliding on all its pillows 
To the thronged Atlantis of personal sleep, 
And the wind rises. The wind rises and bowls 
The day’s litter of news in the alleys. Trash 
Tears itself on the railings, 
Soars and falls with a soft crash, 
Tumbles and soars again. Unruly flights 
Scamper the park, and taking a statue for dead 
Strike at the positive eyes, 
Batter and flap the stolid head 
And scratch the noble name. In empty lots 
Our journals spiral in a fierce noyade 
Of all we thought to think, 
Or caught in corners cramp and wad 
And twist our words. And some from gutters flail 
Their tatters at the tired patrolman’s feet, 
Like all that fisted snow 
That cried beside his long retreat 
Damn you! damn you! to the emperor’s horse’s heels. 
Oh none too soon through the air white and dry 
Will the clear announcer’s voice 
Beat like a dove, and you and I 
From the heart’s anarch and responsible town 
Return by subway-mouth to life again, 
Bearing the morning papers, 
And cross the park where saintlike men, 
White and absorbed, with stick and bag remove 
The litter of the night, and footsteps rouse 
With confident morning sound 
The songbirds in the public boughs.


The Beautiful Changes

by Richard Wilbur

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 a 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.


This Be The Verse

by Phillip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.   
    They may not mean to, but they do.   
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,   
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

Fire and Ice

by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
 Some say in ice.
 From what I’ve tasted of desire
 I hold with those who favor fire.
 But if it had to perish twice,
 I think I know enough of hate
 To know that for destruction ice
 Is also great
 And would suffice.