Continuing to remember Richard Wilbur... I will be going over "The Writer" in a future session of the pro-life social doctrine program. Several months ago, waiting for one of her siblings at ballet, my little sparkle and I shared a special evening reading a few Wilbur poems at a cafe, especially this one.
In my classes, in particular Catholic social doctrine, I would observe that while I can attest to the great, indeed non-fungible, blessing it is to be raised in poverty, it is no thing a parent wishes on a child, certainly not his own. Here is one of those junctures (like clerical/religious celibacy) revealing that nature and grace are not in simple continuity. In my sleeker days, I held to a more facile Thomism. Nothing derogates from the fact that grace perfects nature. But it is also the case that, in the medium of history, the perfection of the thing always involves its destruction, reaching almost to the root, within an inch of its life.
My children are in the hands of a greater Father, thank God. I still hesitate to say Yes to the suffering of those I care for. Such is the stance of the Co-Redemptrix as Stabat Mater, and though my life has been ripped back to the studs, it's still not quite my posture—no doubt because temporal happiness is a hard thing to surrender as a desideratum in my own case (Rousseauvian compassion and all).
These are not tidy matters, so poetry shows its necessity again.
The scene in the poem recalls a similar happening in Eudora Welty's The Optimist's Daughter. And I take in earnest from both what the writer is to understand about the costs and the stakes of this dear vocation.
by Richard Wilbur
In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.
I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.
Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.
But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which
The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.
I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash
And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark
And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,
And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,
It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.
It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.