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Introduction to A Christmas Hymn


Poetry readings: Altitudes
Richard Wilbur Poet
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     Look up into the dome:
It is a great salon, a brilliant place,
   Yet not too splendid for the race
Whom we imagine there, wholly at home
     With the gold-rosetted white
Wainscot, the oval windows and the fault-
   Less figures of the painted vault.
Strolling, conversing in that precious light,
     They chat no doubt of love,
The pleasant burden of their courtesy
   Borne down at times to you and me
Where, in this dark, we stand and gaze above.
     For all they cannot share,
All that the world cannot in fact afford,
   Their lofty premises are floored
With the massed voices of continual prayer.

     How far it is from here
To Emily Dickinson's father's house in America;
   Think of her climbing a spiral stair
Up to the little cupola with its clear
     Small panes, its room for one.
Like the dark house below, so full of eyes
   In mirrors and of shut-in flies,
This chamber furnished only with the sun
     Is she and she alone,
A mood to which she rises, in which she sees
   Bird-choristers in all the trees
And a wild shining of the pure unknown
     On Amherst. This is caught
In the dormers of a neighbour, who, no doubt,
   Will before long be coming out
To pace about his garden, lost in thought

That neighbour, I suppose, would have been Austin Dickinson, but I have in mind a kind of generic New Englander who is making up his religion for himself.


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: Altitudes

Duration: 2 minutes, 3 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2005

Date story went live: 29 September 2010