The poet Richard Wilbur died over the weekend. He was 96. A former poet laureate of The United States and the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, Wilbur was praised and criticized for the consistency of form in his poems, which were beloved, and sometimes condemned, in the poetry world for being orderly and following classic styles; sonnet, terza rima, couplet, et al, but—to my knowledge—never free verse or blank verse.
When I first read it decades ago, this poem became a favorite among Wilbur’s work.
Mind in its purest play is like some bat
That beats about in caverns all alone,
Contriving by a kind of senseless wit
Not to conclude against a wall of stone.
It has no need to falter or explore;
Darkly it knows what obstacles are there,
And so may weave and flitter, dip and soar
In perfect courses through the blackest air.
And has this simile a like perfection?
The mind is like a bat. Precisely. Save
That in the very happiest intellection
A graceful error may correct the cave.
©Richard Wilbur, 1963 The Poems of Richard Wilbur
National Public Radio’s obituary of Wilbur includes two more of his finest poems. He is worth knowing.