“Obscurely yet most surely called to praise,
As sometimes summer calls us all, I said
The hills are heavens full of branching ways
Where star-nosed moles fly overhead the dead;
I said the trees are mines in air. I said
See how the sparrow burrows in the sky!
And then I wondered why this mad instead
Perverts our praise to uncreation, why
Such savor’s in this wrenching things awry.
Does sense so stale that it must needs derange
The world to know it? To a praiseful eye
Should it not be enough of fresh and strange
That trees grow green, and moles can course in clay,
And sparrows sweep the ceiling of our day?”
Almost uniquely among our better poets, Wilbur is “called to praise.” I don’t remember a phrase or line of complaint, but Praise in Summer” is a self-critique. Creation needs no embellishment, yet the urge to create and praise lingers and grows stronger. In “Five Favourite Poetry Books” (Poetry Notebook: Reflections on the Intensity of Language, 2014) Clive James includes Wilbur’s Poems 1943-1956 (in which The Beautiful Changes is collected), along with titles by Yeats, Frost, Auden and Larkin. James likens his impact on his contemporaries to the arrival of a “rococo asteroid, burning up their air with his displays of cool fire.” On March 1, Wilbur turned ninety-four.