Aug 11– a poem of courage and beauty written in 1921

Friday, August 11   “Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.”

Richard Wilbur wrote this poem about his young daughter, as she labored to write important words,  in 1921.  The date matters.  1921 falls early in one of the meanest short stretches of fear and anger in U.S. history.  House to house raids by the federal government in violation of citizen constitutional rights (wiki “Palmer raids”),  anti-immigration undoing of the promise that had come to define The Statue of Liberty, tear gas training for police forces trying to contain street riots, 1924 the high water mark of the Ku Klux Klan’s numbers and power, and of the number of lynchings of black people.  Fear and anger and more fear.  For cause:  World War I’s chemical weapons did not kill all the wounded; lovely young people who went off to war with innocent energy returned maimed, stumbling through the streets of their home towns.

This 90 year old historical context helps me read Richard Wilbur’s lyrical love poem to his daughter with some awareness of courage in a hard time:  her courage as she labors to write something that matters and her dad’s courage to write her story.  Would these two writers, one generation apart, imagine some of us 2017 citizens finding stillness and a moment to read what he wrote about her?  Probably yes, they both show strong imaginations.

Friday in the 2nd week of August on a university campus.  Lots of courage here too as women and men work to prepare for this year’s students who are coming soon.   Best to read the poem out loud,  with pauses.


Have a blest weekend.


john sj


Today’s Post  “the writer”

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.

I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,

And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.

It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

     richard wilbur  March 1, 1921  –


About Wilbur’s poems, one reviewer for The Washington Post said, “Throughout his career Wilbur has shown, within the compass of his classicism, enviable variety. His poems describe fountains and fire trucks, grasshoppers and toads, European cities and country pleasures. All of them are easy to read, while being suffused with an astonishing verbal music and a compacted thoughtfulness that invite sustained reflection.”  {}

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