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Poetry readings: C minor


Poetry readings: For C
Richard Wilbur Poet
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Here's another poem for or about my wife. It's called For C. It's a poem about lovers who part or do not part, and the poem begins with three pairs of lovers who separate and then it ends with my wife and me who did not.

After the clash of elevator gates

And the long sinking, she emerges where

A slight thing in the morning's cross-town glare,

She looks up toward the window where he waits,

Then in a fleeting taxi joins the rest

Of the huge traffic bound forever west.


On such grand scale do lovers say goodbye-

Even this other pair whose high romance

Had only the duration of a dance,

And who, now taking leave with stricken eye,

See each in each a whole new life forgone.

For them, above the darkling clubhouse lawn,


Bright perseids flash and crumble; while for these

Who part now on the dock, weighed down by grief

And baggage, yet with something like relief,

It takes three thousand miles of knitting seas

To cancel out their crossing, and unmake

The amorous rough and tumble of their wake.


We are denied, my love, their fine tristesse

And bittersweet regrets, and cannot share

The sweet frequent vistas of their large despair,

Where love and all are swept to nothingness;

Still, there's a certain scope in that long love

Which constant spirits are the keepers of,


And which, though taken to be tame and staid,

Is a wild sostenuto of the heart,

A passion joined to courtesy and art

Which has the quality of something made,

Like a good fiddle, like the rose's scent,

Like the rose window or the firmament.

I think that there are various possible ways of describing poetry, but one thing that's almost always true of it as opposed to prose is that its words are working very hard with each other. The words of poems work harder with each other than the words of most prose can do, and I do think there's an instance of that at the end of this poem. It's rather a lot to have a love poem soar into the firmament and have 'firmament' be its last word, and I think if I do get away with it, I do because 'firmament' is balanced by something as modest and earthly as a good fiddle.


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: wife, poems, poetry

Duration: 3 minutes, 17 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008