Richard Wilbur’s Contribution To American Culture

2434 words - 10 pages

Richard Wilbur's Contribution to American CultureThesis StatementIn Wilbur's poetry, signs of recurring impatience have been traced with the materialism of the metropole and the redemptive vision of a regionalist culture wedded to the soil.IntroductionAn American regionalism that defines itself through combat with the European metropole and its antitype, openness to the heritage of Europe, are not, however, irreconcilable. Wilbur shows that these apparent controversies can be resolved in synthesis. He is blessed with a capability that keeps a steady eye on the regional object and yet feels no sense of cultural betrayal or compromise in mediating these perceptions through "international" form. Wilbur is a poet acutely conscious of both poles in the argument. In an essay entitled "Regarding Places," he gives an account of a walk in the New England countryside with a friend, a friend so caught up with his internationalist art that he cannot respond to the local detail before him. (Snodgrass, 122-26) Wilbur's vision is by contrast a covalent one--he is able to respond to his immediate setting as well as to the abstractions that obsess the cyclopean artist walking with him.Wilbur has regionalist sympathies as vivid as the English poet's, however different his conception and practice of poetic form. Wilbur's mediate position between the extreme and finally impractical regionalism of poets like Williams not to mention the multicultural critics who succeed him and the geographically hollow position of exiles like T. S. Eliot can perhaps be ascribed to his New England heritage, the mildness of which is apparent in the very name "New England." Frank Wells has characterized its nineteenth-century culture as something based on the "curious marriage of provinciality and cosmopolitanism whereby they remained provincials in heart and cosmopolitans in mind." (Wells, 87)Strict poetic forms are unlikely to be yielded by regionalist culture, if only because the folk art that produces, say, an artless ballad is not an art concealing art by any Horatian sleight of hand. (Oliver, 318-30) Nor are more self-conscious artists forging new forms as an act of anti-colonial faith likely to manage much by way of strictness. Self-evolved laws will fit the contours of the self instead of challenging its habits. Yet at the same time, Wilbur's creed has little bearing on that of Wallace Stevens, even in spite of the points of contact between them. Form imposes pattern on the world, and yet the world is there tractably or reluctantly to receive it, not to be displaced by the artifact that denatures its materials as it admits them to the alternative permanence of art.Cultural Regionalism and WilburWe are all culturally regionalists, conditioned in crucial ways by circumstances of birth and culture. However, because many poems in Wilbur's first collection record his experiences as a soldier in Europe, his native accents of heart and mind sound for the first time in an alien milieu....

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