Richard Wilbur

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NEW POEMS [1987]

In April, thirteen centuries ago,
Bede cast his cassocked shadow on the ground
Of Jarrow and, proceeding heel-to-toe,
Measured to where a head that could contain
The lore of Christendom had darkly lain,
And thereby, for that place and season, found
That a man's shade, at the third hour from dawn,
Stretches eleven feet upon the lawn.

This morning, with his tables in my hand,
Adapting them as near as I can gauge,
Foot after foot, on Massachusetts land,
I pace through April sunlight toward a wall
On which he knew my shadow's end would fall
Whatever other dark might plague the age,
And, warmed by the fidelity of time,
Make with his sun-ringed head a dusky rhyme.

¤ gnomon. [nō'mŏn, -mən.] (n.) 1: An object, such as the style of a sundial, that projects a shadow used as an indicator. 2: The geometric figure that remains after a parallelogram has been removed from a similar but larger parallelogram with which it shares a corner. [Latin gnōmōn, from Greek, interpreter, pointer of a sundial, from gignōskein, to know. See gnō- in Indo-European Roots.]

¤ Bede. [bēd.] (pr. n.) Anglo-Saxon theologian and historian whose major work, Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation (731), written in Latin, remains an important source of ancient English history. He introduced the method of dating events from the birth of Christ. Bede wrote about the calendar, marine tides, the shape of the earth, and provided an accurate table of shadow lengths in De Temporum Ratione, or On the Reckoning of Time.

¤ cassock. [kăs'ək.] (n. Ecclesiastical) An ankle-length garment with a close-fitting waist and sleeves, worn by the clergy and others assisting in church services.

¤ Jarrow. [jä'rō, -rŭ.] (pr. n.) A town on the River Tyne in Northumbria, England. The Monastery of Saint Paul in Jarrow was once the home of the Venerable Bede. It was reputed at the time to have been the only center of learning in Europe north of Rome.

On Having Mis-identified a Wild Flower.
NEW POEMS [1987]

A thrush, because I'd been wrong,
Burst rightly into song
In a world not vague, not lonely,
Not governed by me only.

NEW POEMS [1987]

As we left the garden-party
By the far gate,
There were many loitering on
Who had come late

And a few arriving still,
Though the lawn lay
Like a fast-draining shoal
Of ochre day.

Curt shadows in the grass
Hatched every blade,
And now on pedestals
Of mounting shade

Stood all our friends—iconic,
Now, in mien,
Half-lost in dignities
Till now unseen.

There were the hostess' hands
Held out to greet
The scholar's limp, his wife's
Quick-pecking feet,

And there was wit's cocked head,
And there the sleek
And gaze-enameled look
Of beauty's cheek.

We saw now, loitering there
Knee-deep in night,
How even the wheeling children
Moved in a rite

Or masque, or long charade
Where we, like these,
Had blundered into grand

Filling our selves as sculpture
Fills the stone.
We had not played so surely,
Had we known.

¤ shoal. [shōl.] (n.) 1: A shallow place in a body of water. 1: A sandy elevation of the bottom of a body of water, constituting a hazard to navigation; a sandbank or sandbar.

¤ ochre. [ō'kər.] (n.)  A moderate orange yellow, from moderate or deep orange to moderate or strong yellow.

¤ mien. [mēn.] (n.) 1: Bearing or manner, especially as it reveals an inner state of mind. 2: An appearance or aspect. (A shortening and alteration of "demean.")

¤ masque. [măsk.] (n.) 1: A dramatic entertainment, usually performed by masked players representing mythological or allegorical figures, that was popular in England in the 16th and early 17th centuries. 2: A dramatic verse composition written for such an entertainment. 3: A party of guests wearing costumes and masks. (Variant of "masquerade.")

¤ charade. [shə-rād'.] (n.) An imitation of someone's or something's style. 

The Catch.
NEW POEMS [1987]

        From the dress-box's plashing tis-
        Sue paper she pulls out her prize,
Dangling it to one side before my eyes
            Like a weird sort of fish

        That she has somehow hooked and gaffed
        And on the dock-end holds in air—
Limp, corrugated, lank, a catch too rare
            Not to be photographed.

        I, in my chair, make shift to say
        Some bright, discerning thing, but fail,
Proving once more the blindness of the male.
            Annoyed, she stalks away

        And then is back in half a minute,
        Consulting, now, not me at all
But the long mirror, mirror on the wall.
            The dress, now that she's in it,

        Has changed appreciably, and gains
        By lacy shows, a light perfume
Whose subtle field electrifies the room,
            And two slim golden chains.

        With a fierce frown and hard-pursed lips
        She twists a little on her stem
To test the even swirling of the hem,
            Smooths down the waist and hips,

        Plucks at the shoulder-straps a bit,
        Then turns around and looks behind,
Her face transfigured now by peace of mind.
            There is no question—it

        Is wholly charming, it is she,
        As I belatedly remark,
And may be hung now in the fragrant dark
            Of her soft armory.

¤ plash. [plăsh.] 1: (v. tr.) To spatter (liquid) about; splash. 2: (v. intr.) To cause a light splash.

¤ gaff. [găf.] 1: (n.) A large iron hook attached to a pole or handle and used to land large fish. 2: (v. tr.) To hook or land (a fish) using a gaff.

¤ corrugate. [kôr'ə-gāt, kŏr'-.] 1: (v. tr.) To shape into folds or parallel and alternating ridges and grooves. 2: (v. intr.) To become shaped into such folds or ridges and grooves.

NEW POEMS [1987]

Never take her away,
The daughter whom you gave me,
The gentle, moist, untroubled
Small daughter whom you gave me;
O let her heavenly babbling
Beset me and enslave me.
Don't take her; let her stay,
Beset my heart, and win me,
That I may put away
The firstborn child within me,
That cold, petrific, dry
Daughter whom death once gave,
Whose life is a long cry
For milk she may not have,
And who, in the night-time, calls me
In the saddest voice that can be
Father, Father, and tells me
Of the love she feels for me.
Don't let her go away,
Her whom you gave—my daughter—
Lest I should come to favor
That wilder one, that other
Who does not leave me ever.

2.43 MB

¤ Vinicius de Moraes. [vĬ-nē'sē-ŭs dĕ mô'rā.] (pr. n.) He was an extremely popular Brazilian songwriter. Lived from 1913 to 1980.

Under a Tree.
NEW POEMS [1987]

We know those tales of gods in hot pursuit
Who frightened wood-nymphs into taking root

And changing then into a branchy shape
Fair, but perplexing to the thought of rape:

But this, we say, is more how love is made—
Ply and reply of limbs in fireshot shade,

Where overheard we hear tossed leaves consent
To take the wind in free dishevelment

And, answering with supple blade and stem,
Caress the gusts that are caressing them

NEW POEMS [1987]

Under the Mirabeau Bridge there flows the Seine
                Must I recall
          Our loves recall how then
After each sorrow joy came back again

              Let night come on bells end the day
              The days go by me still I stay

Hands joined and face to face let's stay just so
                While underneath
          The bridge of our arms shall go
Weary of endless looks the river's flow

              Let night come on bells end the day
              The days go by me still I stay

All love goes by as water to the sea
                All love goes by
          How slow life seems to me
How violent the hope of love can be

              Let night come on bells end the day
              The days go by me still I stay

The days the weeks pass by beyond our ken
                Neither time past
          Nor love comes back again
Under the Mirabeau Bridge there flows the Seine

              Let night come on bells end the day
              The days go by me still I stay

Trolling for Blues.
for John and Barbara
NEW POEMS [1987]

As with the dapper terns, or that sole cloud
Which like a slow-evolving embryo
Moils in the sky, we make of this keen fish
Whom fight and beauty have endeared to us
A mirror of our kind. Setting aside

His unreflectiveness, his flings in air,
The aberration of his flocking swerve
To spawning-grounds a hundred miles at sea,
How clearly, musing to the engine's thrum,
Do we conceive him as he waits below:

Blue in the water's blue, which is the shade
Of thought, and in that scintillating flux
Poised weightless, all attention, yet on edge
To lunge and seize with sure incisiveness,
He is a type of coolest intellect,

Or is so to the mind's blue eye until
He strikes and runs unseen beneath the rip,
Yanking imagination back and down
Past recognition to the unlit deep
Of the glass sponges, of chiasmodon,

Of the old darkness of Devonian dream,
Phase of a meditation not our own,
That long mêlée where selves were not, that life
Merciless, painless, sleepless, unaware,
From which, in time, unthinkably we rose.

¤ trolling. [trōl'ĭng.] (v. tr.) 1.a.: To fish for by trailing a baited line from behind a slowly moving boat. 1.b: To fish in by trailing a baited line. 1.c: To trail (a baited line) in fishing. Etymology from Middle English, trollen, meaning to wander about; descended from Old French, troller, which has Germanic origins.

¤ dapper. [dăp'ər.] (adj.) Lively and alert.

¤ scintillate. [sĭn'tl-āt.] (v. intr.) 1: To throw off sparks; flash. 2: To be animated and brilliant.

¤ chiasmodon. [kī-ăz'mə-dôn.] (n.) Chiasmodon refers to a genus of fishes, of the order Perciformes, suborder Trachinoidei, family Chiasmodontidae. Its most famous occupant is the Black Swallower (chiasmodon niger) which can swallow prey up to three times its own size. Its detachable jaws allow large prey quick passage into its expandable stomach, and its inward-facing teeth ensure that its prey cannot escape. They grow up to 25cm long. Its other species include C. bolangeri, C. braueri, C. microcephalus, C. subniger, C. niger pluriradiatus, and Ponerodon vastator. As deep-sea fishes, they exist on the barest threads of life, moving slowly so they do not waste precious energy and living only to eat. The name refers to the fish species' mouth: chiasma, Greek for "cross;" odous, Greek for "tooth, teeth." Click here to view illustrations of the profiles of fishes who share the general family category Chisamadontidae to get an idea why they deserve the name.

¤ Devonian. [dĭ-vō'nē-ən.] (adj.) Referring to the prehistoric Devonian period, which lasted between 410 and 356 million years ago. It has been traditionally referred to as "the Age of Fishes" because of the remarkable species diversification that occurred during the time. It saw the appearance of the first ray-fin fishes, which includes the Chiasmodons.

Advice from the Muse.
for T. W. W.
NEW POEMS [1987]

How credible, the room which you evoke:
At the far end, a lamplit writing-desk.
Nearer, the late sun swamps an arabesque
Carpet askew upon a floor of oak,
And makes a cherry table-surface glow,
Upon which lies an open magazine.
Beyond are shelves and pictures, as we know,
Which cannot in the present light be seen.

Bid now a woman enter in a mood
That we, because she brings a bowl of roses
Which, touch by delicate tough, she redisposes,
May think to catch with some exactitude.
And let her, in complacent silence, hear
A squirrel chittering like an unoiled joint
To tell us that a grove of beech lies near.
Have all be plain, but only to a point.

Now that the bearded man who in a rage
Arises ranting from a shadowy chair,
And of whose presence she was unaware,
Should not be fathomed by the final page,
And all his tale, not hers, be measured out
With facts enough, good ground for inference,
No gross unlikelihood or major doubt,
And, at the end, an end to all suspense.

Still, something should escape us, something like
A question one had meant to ask the dead.
The day's heat come and gone in infra-red,
The deep-down jolting nibble of a pike,
Remembered strangers who in picnic dress
Traverse a field and under mottling trees
Enter a midnight of forgetfulness
Rich as our ignorance of the Celebes.

Of motives for some act, propose a few,
Confessing that you can't yourself decide;
Or interpose a witness to provide,
Despite his inclination to be true,
Some fadings of the signal, as it were,
A breath which, drawing closer, may obscure
Mirror or window with a token blur—
That slight uncertainty which makes us sure.

¤ arabesque. [ăr-ə-bĕsk'.] (n.) 1: A complex, ornate design of intertwined floral, foliate, and geometric figures. 2: An intricate or elaborate pattern or design.

¤ infra-red. [ĭn-frə-rĕd'.] (adj.) Of or relating to the range of invisible radiation wavelengths. In this case, infra-red light's invisibility is the key attribute.

¤ mottle. [mŏt'l.] (v. tr.) To mark with spots or blotches of different shades or colors.

¤ Celebes. [sĕl'ə-bēz, sə-lē'bēz, sĕ-lā'bĕs.] (pr. n.) Also known as Sulawesi. It is the largest Indonesian island. Celebes is zoologically remarkable for the variety of rare, exclusive species of animals that live there. Examples include the dwarf buffalo (Bubalus depressicornis), the pigdeer (Babyroussa babyrussa), the giant palm civet (Macrogalidia musschenbroeki), an endemic species of tarsier (Tarsius spectrum), and several varieties of the Sulawesi macaque (Cynopithecus niger).

NEW POEMS [1987]

        Though between sullen hills,
Flat intervales, harsh-bristled bank and bank,
    The widening river-surface fills
        With sky-depth cold and blank,

        The shadblow's white racemes
Burst here or there at random, scaled with red,
    As when the spitting fuse of dreams
        Lights in a vacant head,

        Or as the Thracian strings,
Descending past the bedrock's muted staves,
    Picked out the signatures of things
        Even in death's own caves.

        Shadblow; in farthest air
Toss three unsettled birds; where naked ledge
    Buckles the surge is a green glare
        Of moss at the water's edge;

        And in this eddy here
A russet disc of maple-pollen spins.
    With such brave poverties the year
        Unstoppably begins.

        It is a day to guess
What wide-deploying motives of delight
    Concert great fields of emptiness
        Beneath the mesh of sight,

        So that this boulder, this
Scored obstacle atilt in whittling spray,
    This swarm of shadows, this abyss
        In which pure numbers play,

        Though cloudily astrew
As rivers soon shall be with scattered roe,
    Instant by instant chooses to
        Affirm itself and flow.

¤ intervale. [ĭn'tər-vəl.] (n. New England.) A tract of low-lying land, especially along a river. Regional Note: Intervale is among the distinctive New England terms mapped by Hans Kurath in the Linguistic Atlas of New England in the 1940s. However, by the time the Dictionary of American Regional English surveyed the New England states 20 years later, only three speakers  in 72 New England communities used the word intervale to indicate a "tract of low-lying land, especially along a river." The word was common in New England at one time because so many settlements were made along the rivers, where the land was more fertile and the towns were accessible by water.

¤ shadblow. [shăd'blō.] (n.) Variant of shadbush. Any of various North American shrubs or trees of the genus Amelanchier, having white flowers, edible blue-black or purplish fruit, and smooth, gray, striped twigs. Also called Juneberry. Its name comes from its being in bloom when shad are found in streams.

¤ raceme. [rā-sēm', rə-.] (n.) An inflorescence having stalked flowers arranged singly along an elongated unbranched axis, as in the lily of the valley.

¤ Thracian strings. [thrā'shən strĭngz.] (n.) Classical reference to the lyre, a stringed instrument used chiefly to accompany Ancient Greek recitations. The specific instance of the lyre's use described in "Shad-Time" ("Descending past the bedrock's muted staves, / Picked out the signatures of things / Even in death's own caves.") refers to the Greek hero Orpheus's descent into Hades to retrieve his wife, Eurydice, where he gained the chance to revive her by playing the lyre.

¤ russet. [rŭs'ĭt.] 1: (adj.) Moderate to strong brown. 2: (n.) A coarse reddish-brown to brown homespun cloth. 3: (n.) A winter apple with a rough reddish-brown skin.

Hamlen Brook.
NEW POEMS [1987]

        At the alder-darkened brink
    Where the jet stream slows to a lucid jet
I lean to the water, dinting its top with sweat,
        And see, before I can drink,

        A startled inchling trout
    Of spotted near-transparency,
Trawling a shadow solider than he.
        He swerves now, darting out

        To where, in a flicked slew
    Of sparks and flittering silt, he weaves
Through stream-bed rocks, disturbing foundered leaves,
        And butts then out of view

        Beneath a sliding glass
    Crazed by the skimming of a brace
Of burnished dragon-flies across its face,
        In which deep cloudlets pass

        And a white precipice
    Of mirrored birch trees plunges down
Toward where the azures of the zenith drown.
        How shall I drink all this?

        Joy's trick is to supply
    Dry lips with what can cool and slake,
Leaving them dumbstruck also with an ache
        Nothing can satisfy. 

¤ alder. [ôl'dər.] (n.) Any of various deciduous shrubs or trees of the genus Alnus, native chiefly to northern temperate regions and having alternate simple toothed leaves and tiny fruits of woody, conelike catkins. Etymology preserved from Middle English, which developed from Old English, alor.

¤ trawl; trawling. [trôl', trôl'ĭng.] 1: (n.) A long fishing line with many shorter lines and hooks attached to it. 2: (n.) A conical fishnet dragged through the water at great depths. 3: (v. tr.) To fish using trawler lines.

¤ founder. [foun'dər.] (v. intr.) To sink below the surface of the water. Example: The ship struck a reef and foundered.

¤ brace. [brās.] (n.) 1: An extremely stiff, erect posture. 2: A cause or source of renewed physical or spiritual vigor. 3: (pl.) A pair of like things: three brace of partridges. Wilbur possibly uses the word brace ambiguously, gathering the description of the dragon-flies' needled posture, the effect that the dragon-flies enact upon the inchling trout, and the number of dragon-flies into on tight word.

¤ burnished. [bûr'nĭsht.] (v. tr.) Made smooth or glossy as if by rubbing; polished. Etymologically descended from Middle English, burnishen, which came from Old French, burnir, burniss-, a variant of brunir which came from brun, meaning shining. Of Germanic origin. See bher- in Indo-European roots.

FRANÇOIS VILLON: Ballade of the Ladies of Time Past.

O tell me where, in lands or seas,
Flora, that Roman belle, has strayed,
Thais, or Archipiades,
Who put each other in the shade,
Or Echo who by bank and glade
Gave back the crying of the hound,
And whose sheer beauty could not fade.
But where shall last year's snow be found?

Where too is learned Héloïse,
For whom shorn Abélard was made
A tonsured monk upon his knees?
Such tribute his devotion paid.
And where's that queen who, having played
With Buridan, had him bagged and bound
To swim the Seine thus ill-arrayed?
But where shall last year's snow be found?

Queen Blanche the fair, whose voice could please
As does a siren's serenade,
Great Bertha, Beatrice, Alice—these,
And Arembourg whom Maine obeyed,
And Joan whom Burgundy betrayed
And England burned, and Heaven crowned:
Where are they, Mary, Sovereign Maid?
But where shall last year's snow be found?

Not next week, Prince, nor next decade,
Ask me these questions I propound.
I shall but say again, dismayed,
Ah, where shall last year's snow be found?

¤ François Villon. [frän-swä vē-yōn.] (pr. n.) Villon lived a hard life. He was born in Paris in 1431 and lived quite recklessly until his death in 1474. He first found himself in trouble in 1455, when he killed a man in a brawl over a woman named Isabeau. He was banished as his punishment. That banishment was lifted in 1456, though he was quickly back in trouble for another brawl near the end of that same year. Villon was later banished again in 1457 for stealing five hundred gold crowns from the chapel of the college of Navarre. He was jailed once more in 1461 for church-robbing. He wrote his famous work Grand Testament while in jail for his 1461 crime, and from that volume Wilbur has translated the present poem.

¤ Flora. [flôr'ə, flōr'ə.] (pr. n.) A few possibilities for the identity of Flora exist. The most immediately recognizable definition is the Roman goddess of Spring. However, some have speculated that Villon referred to the courtesan named Flora mentioned in Juvenal's second satire: "Tedia non lambit Cluuiam nec Flora Catullam: / Hispo subit iuuenes et morbo pallet utroque" (lines 49, 50). However, Juvenal did not elaborate upon Flora beyond her use as a prop to illustrate women's restraint from homosexual passion. 

The fourth century Christian apologist Lactantius wrote of a Flora, likely referring to the same courtesan as Juvenal. In Chapter 20 of Book I of Divinæ Institutiones, Lactantius gave his account for the origins of the annual Floralia festival, during which participants would observe public sexual performances. The festival was religiously associated with Flora, the bearer of flowers and spring, and was obviously regarded by the apologist as a detestable fertility rite. However, Lactantius ascribed its origins to a courtesan named Flora, rather than the Roman goddess. He wrote that the courtesan Flora had amassed such great wealth through prostitution that she left it to heirs along with the instruction that her birthday should be celebrated by future generations by public games. Lactantius used his origin for Floralia as an example to illustrate the Romans' abiding sexual immorality. Villon seems to have intended to refer to this mytho-historical woman.

¤ Thais. [thä-ēs.] (pr. n.) Saint Thais. She was a fourth century courtesan who traveled to Egypt with Alexander the Great. She was converted to Christianity by Saint Paphnutius. She repented for her sins, became a recluse enclosed in a convent cell for three years, and died only fourteen days after having been genuinely accepted into the convent community. Her name is sometimes presented as Thaïsis or Thaïsia.

¤ Archipiades. [ä-kē-pəē'dä.] (pr. n.) Disagreement exists regarding the actual figure referred to as "Archipiades." Dante Gabriel Rossetti decided that Villon meant to refer to Hipparchia from Diogenes Laertius' Lives of the Philosophers, and so he substituted Hipparchia for Archipiades. In the 1920 edition of The Oxford Book of French Verse, St. John Lucas supposes that Archipiada refers to Archippe, Sophocles' mistress. Another speculation holds that Villon had misremembered the name of Alcibiades from Plato's Symposium. While Alcibiades was, in fact, a man, the speculation argues that during the Middle Ages his character was believed to be female because he was described as the paragon of beauty. 

The point is, Archipiades is hot.

¤ Echo. [ĕk'ō.] (pr. n.) Echo was a nymph in Greek and Roman mythology. Her story varies between the two mythologies. In the Roman story, Zeus would leave Echo to distract Hera with incessant chatter while he left for one of his love affairs. Hera learned of Echo's role in her husband's infidelity, and as punishment she cursed Echo to be able to only say what her company has just said. Echo later fell in love with Narcissus, who died after having become enthralled by his own image in a pool of water. She watched him waste away, and she wasted away herself to leave only her voice behind. In the Greek story, Echo was a multi-talented nymph who earned Pan's wrath when she refused his love. Pan ordered his shepherds to hunt and destroy her, which they did. Gaia (the goddess of the Earth) took Echo's destroyed body and spread it all over the world, and the Muses purportedly infuse her remains with her talents to create music.

¤ Héloïse and Abélard. [ĕl'ə-wēz, ā-lô-ēz'], [ä-bā-lär'.] (pr. n.) Pierre Abélard was a French scholastic philosopher who lived during the late 11th and early 12th centuries. Héloïse was born in 1101, around the time when Abélard was twenty years old. She matured into a beautiful and brilliant young woman, and Abélard used his position to secure her as his student. He seduced her as her teacher; she returned the affection. They loved each other in secret, though the secret soon became known to everyone except Héloïse's uncle, her guardian. When Héloïse's uncle found out, his fury drove the lovers apart. They later wed in secret. Héloïse's life under her uncle became unbearable, so Abélard arranged for her to join a convent in Argenteuil. Enraged, Héloïse's uncle called together a group of men who broke into Abélard's chambers and forcibly castrated him.

Later in life, when Héloïse's covenant had been disbanded, Abélard used his administrative authority to transfer the nuns to Paraclete. During Héloïse's time as the prioress at Paraclete, the two former lovers began corresponding. They are chiefly known for the love expressed in their correspondence, and their letters remain one of the earliest recorded accounts of romantic love. They are reputedly buried together in a tomb in Père Lachaise cemetery in eastern Paris.

¤ tonsure. [tŏn'shər.] 1: (n.) The act of shaving the head or part of the head, especially as a preliminary to becoming a priest of a member of a monastic order. 2: (n.) The part of a monk's or priest's head that has been shaved. 3: (tr. v.) To shave the head of.

¤ Buridan. [bœ'rĕ-dŏn.] (pr. n.) John Buridan was born sometime before 1300 near the town of Béthune in Picardy, France. He died possibly around 1358. Buridan is currently a fairly obscure philosopher from the Middle Ages, but in his time he was extremely well-known. The circumstances of his death are unknown, but a popular (and unsubstantiated) rumor concerning his end has it that he and the Queen of France were lovers. Out of rage, the King of France purportedly had Buridan tied in a sack and thrown into the Seine River to drown. Again, it should be noted that this is an unverified account of Buridan's demise.

¤ Queen Blanche. [bläNsh.] (pr. n.) Villon referred to the French queen Blanche de Castille, wife to King Louis VIII and mother to King Louis IX. She supported her husband when he engaged England in war, and then learned that he was at a severe disadvantage. She went so far as to organize two naval fleets to support his war efforts. Blanche served France as regent after the king's death since the oldest prince (who became King Louis IX) was too young to ascend the throne when his father died. She successfully defended her son's right to inherit the throne by dissolving a league of barons and repelling an attack by the King of England. She descended from the throne as regent when her son came of age, and ascended as regent again later when King Louis IX left to fight the crusades. She died in 1252.

¤ Great Bertha, AKA Bertrada. [bĕrträ'də.] (pr. n.) Unfortunately, I'm unable to learn more about Bertha beyond some superficial details and the titles of specific texts that would explain her relevance a bit more. Wilbur has translated her name "Great Bertha," though she goes by other names as well: Bertrada, Bethrada, Queen Goosefoot, Bigfoot Berta, and Berta de li pè grandi to name a few. Bertha was both in 720 A.D. and died on 12 July 783. She was a Frankish Queen, married to Pepin the Short who offered to lead the Franks for Pope Zacharias. The Franks accepted Pepin as their king, and he and Bertha had a son who became the Charlemagne of Carolingian fame. Bertha was apparently an important person within the Carolingian consciousness, since a whole cycle of the epic poem La Geste Francor ("the Frankish Epic") was dedicated to her. Specifically, she is the focus of lines 1164 through 2917. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find translations of these lines of La Geste Francor available online, so I am unable to clarify the majority of her biography.

¤ Beatrice. [bē'ətrĭs, ITAL. bāätrē'chā.] (pr. n.) Beatrice Portinari was Dante Alighieri's famed love who (in Dante's Divine Commodia)  masterminded his epic passage through Hell, Purgatory, and finally to Heaven. In life, she was the focus of Dante's childhood affection, though the two never married. Beatrice lived from 1266 to 1290, a short twenty-four years. She also appeared in Dante's Vita Nuova.

¤ Alice. [ă'lĭs.] (pr. n.) As before with Bertha, little direct information is freely accessible online. (I unfortunately lack the funds or the means to acquire direct access to the relevant texts.) However, I have found some information. First, "Alice" is Wilbur's rendition of the name written by Villon. Villon wrote "Aliss." In the 1920 edition of The Oxford Book of French Verse, St. John Lucas suggests that Villon's "Aliss" is the daughter of the French King Louis the Pious who was given to the hero Rainouart as a bride. A number of names may be used in place of "Alice": Aélis, Alix, Aliss, Adele, Adelheid, Adelaide, and a number of other variations. The text that most likely contains the direct textual presence of Alice/Aliss/Aelis is in the William Cycle of the Carolingian Gestes, either Geste de Guillaume d'Orange or Geste de Garin de Monglane.

¤ Arembourg. [ä'räm-bōōrg.] (pr. n.) Villon referred to Arembourg, the daughter of Helias who was the Count of Maine. Maine is a province in northwestern France. She lived during the late 11th and early 12th centuries. When her father died, she inherited political ownership of the county. She later married King Fulk V. I haven't learned any more about this figure beyond these facts. Alternative spellings of her name include: Erembourg, Ermengarde, Aramburga, and Aremburga.

¤ Joan d'Arc. [zhän därk'.] (pr. n.) Joan d'Arc was a French nationalist soldier whose impetus to battle was supposedly inspired by God. Her divine motivations have earned her a spot in the Catholic Church's canon of saints. The betrayal mentioned in the poem refers to Joan d'Arc's capture by the forces of the Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good. Philip's father (John the Fearless, then the Duke of Burgundy) had been a power-seeker until 1419, when he was betrayed by the French Dauphin's forces and assassinated. Philip blamed the Dauphin for his father's death (even though the Dauphin's forces had acted without consulting the Dauphin on the matter) and allied himself with England under the Treaty of Troyes. Philip captured Joan d'Arc in 1430 at Compiègne and sold her to the English government. The Duke of Bedford had her tried as a symbolic challenge to the legitimacy of the Dauphin's claim to the throne. She was executed in 1431, tied to a stake and burnt.

¤ Mary [mâr'ē.] (pr. n.) Villon referred to Mary, the mother of Christ. The original French text of this line reads "Où sont-ils, Vierge souveraine?" Vierge souveraine means "sovereign Virgin."

Links to Richard Wilbur materials online

Fresh Bilge: A Salty Journal. Essays on Wilbur by Alan Sullivan.

Back to Adilegian Index.

Audio Recording Information

1: Recorded with ARCHOS VIDEO AV 120 Jukebox from HP Pavilion Laptop. Saved to harddrive with Real7ime Converter as a .WAV file from .RAM content originally accessed from the web page International Poetry Forum - Poets & Performers. The entire performance may be accessed from the International Poetry Forum's web site.

2: Recorded with ARCHOS VIDEO AV 120 Jukebox from HP Pavilion Laptop. Saved to harddrive from the website of the Amherst Recording Council. Originally performed 16 April 2005 at a tribute to Richard Wilbur, in honor of the publication of Wilbur's Collected Poems.

2: Recorded with ARCHOS VIDEO AV 120 Jukebox from HP Pavilion Laptop. Saved to harddrive with Real7ime Converter as a .WAV file from .RAM content originally accessed from the web page Richard Wilbur - Cover Page. The entire performance from which this selection has been excerpted may be accessed from The Internet Poetry Archive's web site. The audio quality is fairly poor, but Wilbur's cadences and vocal idiosyncrasies come through when the listener has the poem in hand while listening.

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