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Inspired by The Misanthrope


André du Bouchet declares me to be a poet
Richard Wilbur Poet
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One thing that happened during my initial year of studies at Harvard was that I met André du Bouchet, a refugee from France who had studied at Amherst and who was now living at Cambridge, and was I suppose doing some sort of graduate work. André went on to become a very distinguished poet in France. At the time I knew him, he was an exceedingly lively young man and a fine poet, and we at once took to each other. We used to sit around in my Cambridge apartment translating each other, and that was rather fun. He sometimes made me sound as good as Baudelaire. He interested me in all sorts of French writers. I had during World War II picked up copies of Aragon with one hand, Mallarmé with the other, and read and read in an awkward and untutored fashion a lot of French literature as I went along. But now he incited me to take it seriously, and under his urging I translated a whole novel of Villiers de l'Isle Adam and did a good deal of reading, especially in modernist literature, people like Raymond Roussel.

Very early in our friendship, my wife opened a bureau drawer in which my accumulated poems had been placed and handed them to André and said, 'Would you, would you look at them?' He took them home to his apartment and came back fairly soon afterwards, kissed me on both cheeks and declared me to be a poet, and that was of course utterly delightful to me, and it was the more delightful because André was at that time a kind of talent scout for the New York publisher, Reynal & Hitchcock. He sent all those smudged and crumpled poems of mine down to Reynal & Hitchcock and to my amazement they called back pretty soon and said that they'd like to do a book. And so that's how my first book The Beautiful Changes got published, and I must say it was a very painless route to publication. I had not had much, much rejection and I was published as it were by surprise.

Acclaimed US poet Richard Wilbur (1921-2017) published many books and was twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize. He was less well known for creating a musical version of Voltaire's “Candide” with Bernstein and Hellman which is still produced throughout the world today.

Listeners: David Sofield

David Sofield is the Samuel Williston Professor of English at Amherst College, where he has taught the reading and writing of poetry since 1965. He is the co-editor and a contributor to Under Criticism (1998) and the author of a book of poems, Light Disguise (2003).

Tags: Harvard University, Amherst, Cambridge University, Reynal & Hitchcock, The Beautiful Changes, André du Bouchet, Charles Baudelaire, Aragon, Stéphane Mallarmé, Raymond Roussel

Duration: 3 minutes, 37 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008