a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


About Lying and the way poems happen


Poetry readings: Lying
Richard Wilbur Poet
Comments (1) Please sign in or register to add comments
Wednesday, 20 July 2011 04:55 AM
I love Richard Wilbur's poetry, and Lying is one of my favorites. But I don't understand...
I love Richard Wilbur's poetry, and "Lying" is one of my favorites. But I don't understand what it was that "..worked three centuries and more/ In the dark caves of France..". Can anyone tell me to what he is referring in these lines? Thanks!

I want to read a poem called Lying on which my wife once passed a severe judgement when I first showed it to her. She said, 'Well, you've done it - at last you've written a poem that is unintelligible from beginning to end'. And then I said, 'Oh no, it's a very jazzy sort of poem, it's full of riffs, but fundamentally it's simple, it's just saying that all things are of one nature'. So, with that clue, she read it again and said, 'Well, it's quite intelligible', and it's called Lying.

To claim at a dead party to have spotted a grackle,
When in fact you haven't of late, can do no harm.
Your reputation for saying things of interest
Will not be marred, if you hasten to other topics,
Nor will the delicate web of human trust
Be ruptured by that airy fabrication.
Later however, talking with toxic zest
Of golf, or taxes or the rest of it
Where the beaked ladle plies the chuckling ice,
You may enjoy a chill of severance, hearing
Above your head the shrug of unreal wings.
Not that the world is tiresome in itself:
We know what boredom is: It is a dull
Impatience or a fierce velleity,
A champing wish, stalled by our lassitude,
To make or do. In the strict sense, of course,
We invent nothing, merely bearing witness
To what each morning brings again to light:
Gold crosses, cornices, astonishment
Of panes, the turbine-vent which natural law
spins on the grill-end of the diner's roof,
Then grass and grackles or, at the end of town
in sheen-swept pastureland, the horses' neck
Clothed with its usual thunder, and the stones
Beginning now to tug their shadows in
And track the air with glitter. All these things
Are there before us; there before we look
Or fail to look; there to be seen or not
By us, as by the bees's twelve thousand eyes,
According to our means and purposes.
So too with strangeness not to be ignored,
Total eclipse or snow upon the rose,
And so with that most rare conception, nothing.
What is it, after all, but something missed?
It is the water of a dried-up well
Gone to assail the cliffs of Labrador.
There is what gold the arch-negator, sprung
From hell to probe with intellectual site
The cells and heavens of a given world
Which he could take but as another prison:
Small wonder that, pretending not to be,
He drifted through the bar-like boles of Eden
In a black mist low creeping, dragging down
And darkening with moody self-absorption
What, when he left it, lifted and, if seen
From the sun's vantage, seethed with faulting hues.
Closer to making than the deftest fraud
Is seeing how the catbird's tail was made
To counterpoise, on the mock-orange spray,
Its light, up-tilted spine; or, lighter still,
How the shucked tunic of an onion, brushed
To one side on a backlit chopping-board
And rocked by trifling currents, prints and prints
Its bright, ribbed shadow like a flapping sail.
Odd that a thing is most itself when likened:
The eye mists over, basil, hints of clove,
The river glazes toward the dam and spills
To the drubbed rocks below its crashing cullet,
And in the barnyard near the sawdust-pile
Some great thing is tormented. Either it is
A tarp torn loose and in the groaning wind
Now puffed, now flattened, or a hip-shot beast
Which tries again, and once again, to rise.
What, though for pain there is no other word,
Finds pleasure in the cruellest simile?
It is something in us like the catbird's song
From neighbour bushes in the grey of morning
That harsh or sweet, and of its own accord,
Proclaims its many kin. It is the chant
Of the first springs, and it is tributary
To the great lies told with the eyes half-shut
That have the truth in view: The tale of Chiron
Who, with sage head, wild heart, and planted hoof
Instructed brute Achilles in the lyre,
Or of the garden where we first mislaid
Simplicity of wish and will, forgetting
Out of what cognate splendour all things came
To take their scattering names; And nonetheless
That matter of a baggage-train surprised
by a few Gascons in the Pyrenees
Which, having worked three Centuries and more
in the dark caves of France, poured out at last
the blood of Roland, who to Charles his King
And to the dove that hatched the dove-tailed world
Was faithful unto death, and shamed the devil.


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: poems, poetry, poetry readings

Duration: 6 minutes, 12 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2005

Date story went live: 29 September 2010