Richard Wilbur
Wilbur in 1964
Wilbur in 1964
BornRichard Purdy Wilbur
(1921-03-01)March 1, 1921
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedOctober 14, 2017(2017-10-14) (aged 96)
Belmont, Massachusetts, U.S.
Alma materAmherst College (1942)
Harvard University (1947)
GenrePoetry, children's books, drama, French literature
Literary movementFormalism
Notable worksThings of This World
Notable awardsPulitzer Prize for Poetry (1957, 1989)
Robert Frost Medal (1996)
SpouseMary Charlotte Hayes Ward 1942–2007 (her death)
ChildrenEllen D. Wilbur, born 1943,
Christopher H. Wilbur, born 1948,
Nathan L. Wilbur, born 1951,
Aaron H. Wilbur, born 1958

Richard Purdy Wilbur (March 1, 1921 – October 14, 2017) was an American poet and literary translator. One of the foremost poets of his generation, Wilbur's work, often employing rhyme, and composed primarily in traditional forms, was marked by its wit, charm, and gentlemanly elegance. He was appointed the second Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1987 and received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry twice, in 1957 and 1989.[1]

Early years

Wilbur was born in New York City on March 1, 1921, and grew up in North Caldwell, New Jersey.[2] In 1938 he graduated from Montclair High School, where he worked on the school newspaper.[3] At Amherst College, he also displayed his "ample literary gifts" as one of the "sharpest" reporters for the college newspaper, edited by upperclassman Robert Morgenthau.[4] After graduation in 1942, he served in the United States Army from 1943 to 1945 during World War II. He attended graduate school at Harvard University. Wilbur taught at Wellesley College, then Wesleyan University for two decades and at Smith College for another decade. At Wesleyan he was instrumental in founding the award-winning poetry series of the Wesleyan University Press.[5][6] He received two Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry and taught at Amherst College as late as 2009,[7] where he also served on the editorial board of the literary magazine The Common.[8][6][2][9][10][11]

Literary career

When only eight years old, Wilbur published his first poem in John Martin's Magazine.[12] His first book, The Beautiful Changes and Other Poems, appeared in 1947. Thereafter he published several volumes of poetry, including New and Collected Poems (Faber, 1989). Wilbur was also a translator, specializing in the 17th century French comedies of Molière and dramas of Jean Racine. His translation of Tartuffe has become the play's standard English version and has been presented on television twice (a 1978 production is available on DVD). Wilbur also published several children's books, including Opposites, More Opposites, and The Disappearing Alphabet. In 1959 he became the general editor of The Laurel Poetry Series (Dell Publishing).

Continuing the tradition of Robert Frost and W. H. Auden, Wilbur's poetry finds illumination in everyday experiences. Less well-known is Wilbur's foray into writing theatre lyrics. He provided lyrics to several songs in Leonard Bernstein's 1956 musical Candide, including the famous "Glitter and Be Gay" and "Make Our Garden Grow". He also produced several unpublished works, including "The Wing" and "To Beatrice".

His honors included the 1983 Drama Desk Special Award and the PEN Translation Prize for his translation of The Misanthrope, the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the National Book Award for Things of This World (1956),[13] the Edna St Vincent Millay award, the Bollingen Prize, and the Chevalier, Ordre des Palmes Académiques. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1959.[14] In 1987 Wilbur became the second poet, after Robert Penn Warren, to be named U.S. Poet Laureate after the position's title was changed from Poetry Consultant. In 1988 he won the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry and in 1989 he won a second Pulitzer, for his New and Collected Poems. On October 14, 1994, he received the National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton. He also received the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation in 1994. In 2003 Wilbur was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.[15] In 2006 he won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. In 2010 he won the National Translation Award for the translation of The Theatre of Illusion by Pierre Corneille. In 2012 Yale University conferred an honorary Doctor of Letters on Wilbur.

Wilbur died on October 14, 2017, at a nursing home in Belmont, Massachusetts, from natural causes aged 96.[2][16]

Awards and honors

During his lifetime, Wilbur received numerous awards in recognition of his work, including:


Poetry collections


Selected poems available online

  • "Some Words Inside of Words". The Atlantic. June 2004. Retrieved October 21, 2017.
  • "Sugar Maples, January". The New Yorker. January 16, 2012. Retrieved November 12, 2014.

Prose collections

Translated plays from other authors

Translated from Molière

From Jean Racine

From Pierre Corneille



  1. ^ "Poet Laureate Timeline: 1981–1990". Library of Congress. 2008. Retrieved January 1, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c "Richard Wilbur, Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Winner, Dies at 96". The New York Times. October 16, 2017. Retrieved October 16, 2017.
  3. ^ Richard (Purdy) Wilbur, from the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Accessed January 1, 2012. "Wilbur showed an early interest in writing, which he has attributed to his mother's family because her father was an editor of the Baltimore Sun and her grandfather was an editor and a publisher of small papers aligned with the Democratic party. At Montclair High School, from which he graduated in 1938, Wilbur wrote editorials for the school newspaper."
  4. ^ Meier, Andrew (October 2022). Morgenthau (First ed.). Random House. pp. 276, 299. ISBN 9781400068852.
  5. ^ Wilbur biography, University of Illinois
  6. ^ a b Gordon, Jane (October 16, 2005), "The University of Verse", The New York Times, retrieved July 18, 2011
  7. ^ "Wilbur", Faculty staff, Amherst College.
  8. ^ "About The Common – The Common". July 15, 2016.
  9. ^ Ferney, Mark (October 15, 2017). "Richard Wilbur, Pulitzer-winning poet, dies at 96". Boston Globe. Retrieved October 15, 2017.
  10. ^ Aizenman, Hannah (October 16, 2017). "Richard Wilbur in the New Yorker". The New Yorker.
  11. ^ "Richard Wilbur, Who Twice Won Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, Dies at 96". Los Angeles Times. October 16, 2017. Retrieved September 28, 2019. The U.S. poet laureate in 1987-88, Wilbur was often cited as an heir to Robert Frost and other New England writers and was the rare versifier to enjoy a following beyond the poetry community. He was regarded — not always favorably — as a leading "formalist," a master of old-fashioned meter and language who resisted contemporary trends. Wilbur was also known for his translations, especially of Moliere, Racine and other French playwrights.
  12. ^ "Richard Wilbur, The Art of Poetry No. 22", The Paris Review, Interviews, Winter 1977 (72), Winter 1977, retrieved December 24, 2014.
  13. ^ "National Book Awards – 1957". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-02.
    (With acceptance speech by Wilbur and essay by Patrick Rosal from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  14. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter W" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved April 7, 2011.
  15. ^ "2004 Inductees of Theatre Hall of Fame Announced". Archived from the original on March 31, 2014.
  16. ^ Ferney, Mark (October 15, 2017). "Richard Wilbur, Pulitzer-winning poet, dies at 96". The Boston Globe. Retrieved October 15, 2017.
  17. ^ "All Fellows". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Retrieved July 18, 2016.
  18. ^ "A Century of American Poetry". Poetry Society of America. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
  19. ^ "National Book Awards – 1957". National Book Foundation. Retrieved July 18, 2016.
  20. ^ "Poetry". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved July 18, 2016.
  21. ^ "The Bollingen Prize for Poetry". Yale University. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
  22. ^ "Shelley Winners". Poetry Society of America. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
  23. ^ "Past Awards". New York Drama Critics' Circle. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
  24. ^ "Awards for 1973–1974". Outer Critics Circle. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
  25. ^ "Awards". Drama Desk. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
  26. ^ Peter Armenti (June 10, 2015). "United States Poets Laureate: A Guide to Online Resources". Library of Congress. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
  27. ^ "Olivier Winners 1988". Olivier Awards. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
  28. ^ "Saint Louis Literary Award - Saint Louis University".
  29. ^ Saint Louis University Library Associates. "Recipients of the St. Louis Literary Award". Retrieved July 25, 2016.
  30. ^ "Gold Medal". American Academy of Arts and Letters. Archived from the original on August 17, 2016. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
  31. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  32. ^ "PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation Winners". PEN America. April 29, 2016. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
  33. ^ "Frost Medalists". Poetry Society of America. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
  34. ^ "Wallace Stevens Award". Academy of American Poets. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
  35. ^ "Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
  36. ^ "MacDowell Medal winners — 1960–2011". The Telegraph. Retrieved December 6, 2019.
  37. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Richard Wilbur". Poetry Foundation. October 18, 2017.
  38. ^ a b c Carlson, Michael (October 17, 2017). "Richard Wilbur obituary". The Guardian – via
  39. ^ "Edgar Allan Poe: Poems and Poetics". Library of America.
  40. ^ The Misanthrope, Dramatists Play Service, 1966, ISBN 978-0-8222-1389-5.
  41. ^ Tartuffe, Dramatists Play Service, 1991, ISBN 978-0-8222-1111-2.
  42. ^ The School for Wives, Dramatists Play Service, October 1991, ISBN 978-0-8222-0999-7.
  43. ^ The Learned Ladies, Dramatists Play Service, 1977, ISBN 978-0-8222-0648-4.
  44. ^ School for Husbands, Dramatists Play Service, October 1991, ISBN 978-0-8222-0998-0.
  45. ^ The Imaginary Cuckold, or Sganarelle, Dramatists Play Service, 1993, ISBN 978-0-8222-1331-4.
  46. ^ Amphitryon, Dramatists Play Service, 1995, ISBN 978-0-8222-1439-7.
  47. ^ The Bungler, Dramatists Play Service, 2000, ISBN 978-0-8222-1747-3.
  48. ^ Don Juan, Dramatists Play Service, 1998, ISBN 978-0-8222-1657-5.
  49. ^ Lovers' Quarrels, Dramatists Play Service, 2007, ISBN 978-0-8222-2159-3.
  50. ^ "Forthcoming: Summer and Fall 2021". Library of America. Retrieved April 23, 2023.
  51. ^ Andromache, Dramatists Play Service, 1982, ISBN 978-0-8222-0048-2.
  52. ^ Phædra, Dramatists Play Service, 1986, ISBN 978-0-8222-0890-7.
  53. ^ The Suitors, Dramatists Play Service, 2001, ISBN 978-0-8222-1804-3.
  54. ^ Corneille, Pierre (April 2, 2007), The Theatre of Illusion, Mariner books, ISBN 978-0-15-603231-5.
  55. ^ Le Cid, Dramatists Play Service, 2012, ISBN 978-0-8222-2501-0.
  56. ^ The Liar, Dramatists Play Service, 2012, ISBN 978-0-8222-2502-7.


Further reading