Monday, March 28, 2011

Richard Wilbur*

Richard Wilbur has recently had a new poetry collection published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Anterooms (2010) is a slender volume — which consists of just eighteen new poems, five poems translated from French, Latin and Russian, and his translation of 37 riddles. Even so, it invites us intimately to join Wilbur in his poetic vision and his view of life.

It may suggest humility for such a celebrated poet to give as much attention to translating the work of others as Richard Wilbur has in recent years. One particular focus for Wilbur has been the plays of Molière — seven of which he’s now translated.

In Anterooms, his first new poetry book in a decade, Richard Wilbur remains dedicated to traditional structures. Only one poem neglects rhyme. Some poems are deeply reflective — springing from such things as a verse in Ecclesiastes, or the poet’s observations of an inch worm; some poems are playful — such as “Some Words Inside of Words” which is addressed, in part, to children.

The following poem first appeared in First Things (May 2009).


Give thanks for all things
On the plucked lute, and likewise
The harp of ten strings.

Have the lifted horn
Greatly blare, and pronounce it
Good to have been born.

Lend the breath of life
To the stops of the sweet flute
Or capering fife,

And tell the deep drum
To make, at the right juncture,

Then, in grave relief,
Praise too our sorrows on the
Cello of shared grief.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Richard Wilbur: first post, third post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) was the most popular American poet of his time. He wrote extensive stories in verse form, such as Evangeline and The Song of Hiawatha, as well as shorter poems. To some he may be best known for his poem “Paul Revere’s Ride”, and to others for “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day” which has become a popular Christmas carol.

He is considered to be one of the Fireside poets — which include William Cullen Bryant and Oliver Wendell Homes — who were the first American poets whose popularity could rival that of the British.

Longfellow not only wrote his own poetry, but translated poetry from such languages as Spanish, French, German, Danish, and Swedish, and was the first American to translate The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri.


I like that ancient Saxon phrase, which calls
The burial-ground God's-Acre! It is just;
It consecrates each grave within its walls,
And breathes a benison o'er the sleeping dust.

God's-Acre! Yes, that blessed name imparts
Comfort to those, who in the grave have sown
The seed that they had garnered in their hearts,
Their bread of life, alas! no more their own.

Into its furrows shall we all be cast,
In the sure faith, that we shall rise again
At the great harvest, when the archangel's blast
Shall winnow, like a fan, the chaff and grain.

Then shall the good stand in immortal bloom,
In the fair gardens of that second birth;
And each bright blossom mingle its perfume
With that of flowers, which never bloomed on earth.

With thy rude ploughshare, Death, turn up the sod,
And spread the furrow for the seed we sow;
This is the field and Acre of our God,
This is the place where human harvests grow!

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: second post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at:

Monday, March 14, 2011

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney was born in 1939 to a Catholic family in County Derry — in predominantly Protestant Northern Ireland; since 1972 he has lived in the Republic of Ireland. He has received many honours as a poet — serving as the Professor of Poetry at both Harvard and Oxford, and having received the Nobel Prize in 1995. He is also celebrated for his Whitbread Award-winning translation of Beowulf.

His poetry usually dwells in a rural landscape, where his faith is more taken as a given, than discussed as a topic. He tends to not reveal himself or make declarations, but sets images up for observation. Biblical references, including miracles, are portrayed as history.

In a poem, dedicated to the memory of fellow–Catholic poet Czeslaw Milosz, called “Out of This World” — from Heaney’s 2006 collection District and Circle — he gives us a deeper glimpse: “I went to the alter rails and received the mystery / on my tongue, returned to my place, shut my eyes fast, made / an act of thanksgiving, opened my eyes and felt / time starting up again.” In this image of faith, he says of the consecration that he “believed (whatever it means) that a change had occurred”. Is he saying he believed without understanding — or that he’s questioning what belief means, or what the change means? Since it’s “a change” is he acknowledging or questioning the Catholic idea of transubstantiation?

Similarly below, in this earlier poem, Heaney seems to be criticizing the long-held Catholic belief in limbo — and by extension the Catholic doctrine that salvation is only possible for those who have been baptised. These questions are raised in his poetry, but Heaney seems to leave us to our own conclusions.


Fishermen at Ballyshannon
Netted an infant last night
Along with the salmon.
An illegitimate spawning,

A small one thrown back
To the waters. But I'm sure
As she stood in the shallows
Ducking him tenderly

Till the frozen knobs of her wrists
Were dead as the gravel,
He was a minnow with hooks
Tearing her open.

She waded in under
The sign of the cross.
He was hauled in with the fish.
Now limbo will be

A cold glitter of souls
Through some far briny zone.
Even Christ's palms, unhealed,
Smart and cannot fish there.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Seamus Heaney: second post; third post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at:

Monday, March 7, 2011

Walt McDonald

Walt McDonald has published more than twenty collections of poetry, including Faith Is A Radical Master: New and Selected Poems (Abilene Christian University Press, 2005), and has had more than 2300 poems published in journals and collections; in 2001 he was the Poet Laureate for Texas. He is professor of English Emeritus at Texas Tech University.

When asked in an interview in Valparaiso Poetry Review, to whom he felt responsible, McDonald said,

--------“As a Christian, why do I write? I'm as vulnerable to vanity
--------as Solomon and anybody I know, often ‘Desiring this
--------man's art and that man's scope,’ as Shakespeare said.
--------I go back to the book for assurance that working with words
--------is alright, even a good thing to do: ‘Whatever your
--------hand finds to do, do it with all your might.’ I take
--------heart from Paul's advice: ‘Whatever you do, work at it with
--------all your heart, as working for the Lord.’ After his
--------conversion, John Berryman wrote, ‘Father Hopkins said the
--------only true literary critic is Christ. Let me lie down
--------exhausted, content with that’."

(The John Berryman poem McDonald quotes from here, is available elsewhere on this blog.)

Walt McDonald’s poetry demonstrates his faith and his faithfulness to his calling.

Alone at Dawn with the Blinds Raised

How does faith come—like a hummingbird darting by—
or a pair of elk cows clipping our grass at dawn,
sniffing the picnic table while we wait
with the blinds raised. Soon, beams will splash
the mountain peak, lights will come on,

a cabin door will close, the elk will lift their heads
and stare, and trot with eyes wide back to the tree line.
But suddenly, others come, almost glowing in their blond,
thick, winter coats, bowing to grass we’ve watered
and not mowed, hoping for this moment—four,

fourteen, the whole herd here on our lawn,
sisters and mothers on our green slope,
cougars and coyotes a thousand yards behind them,
calves on their way within weeks—but all that’s later,
and the best grass since last summer is right now.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: