Richard Wilbur at Amherst College



Copyright Tsar Fedorsky 2011

Photo by Tsar Fedorsky (AC 1982)

Richard Wilbur arrivedat Amherst College as a Freshman in the Fall of 1938, just before the Great New England Hurricane swept through Amherst and destroyed College Grove. While at Amherst, Wilbur served as Chairman of the college newspaper, The Amherst Student. He was also a member of Scarab, Amherst's Senior Honorary Society, served as class poet, and was a member of the Chi Psi fraternity. Richard Wilbur graduated in May 1942.

 Richard Wilbur. Things of This World.

Richard Wilbur. Things of This World. (1956)

In June 1942, Wilbur married Mary Charlotte Hayes Ward, a graduate of Smith College. He joined the Enlisted Reserve Corps that same year and was called to active duty in 1943. Wilbur served in the European theater until 1945. Upon leaving the army he pursued graduate studies in English at Harvard University. It was at Harvard that Wilbur became friends with Robert Frost.

Wilbur's first book of poetry, The Beautiful Changes and Other Poems, was published in 1947, the same year he completed his MA at Harvard. He served as a junior fellow and, later, a member of the Harvard faculty from 1947 through 1954.

Ceremony and Other Poems, his second volume of poetry, appeared in 1950. In 1956 Wilbur published Things of This World, for which he was awarded his first Pulitzer Prize.

 Richard Wilbur. Cartoon. (1950)

Richard Wilbur. Cartoon. (1950)

Wilbur has always maintained close ties to Amherst College. In the fall of 2008, he returned to Amherst to teach as the John Woodruff Simpson Lecturer -- the same post once held by Robert Frost. He has been a regular speaker on campus, most recently reading his poem "Altitudes" at President Biddy Martin's inauguration ceremony in October 2011.

Wilbur's life and work also intersects with two other poets closely connected to Amherst College: Frost and Dickinson. He was friends with Robert Frost and attended Frost's 80th birthday celebration at the Lord Jeffery Inn in March 1954. In 1959 he was on a panel about Emily Dickinson with Archibald MacLeish and Louise Bogan as part of the bicentennial celebration of the Town.  

In April 2010, Richard Wilbur sat down with Professor David Sofield for an oral history interview. Excerpts can be viewed online and the entire interview is available on DVD in Frost Library.

The Misanthrope (1955).

Richard Wilbur, translator. The Misanthrope. (1955)

In the late 1960s Wilbur gave a small group of manuscripts to the college -- the beginning of what has become the most comprehensive collection of his manuscripts and published work anywhere. Wilbur's original gift is described in the finding aid to the Richard P. Wilbur Papers, but these four boxes are a small fraction of our Wilbur holdings.

Our holdings of Wilbur's published appearances -- his books of poetry, his translations, appearances in magazines and anthologies, and even books by other authors with a dust-jacket blurb from Wilbur -- can all be found by searching the Five Colleges Libraries Catalog. Many of these items were donated to the Archives by Jack W. C. Hagstrom (AC 1955), a long-time friend of Wilbur and a great collector of his work. In addition to his gifts of books, periodicals, and ephemera, Hagstrom has also donated his personal correspondence with Wilbur which is a rich source of bibliographical details.

"Altitudes" MS draft

Richard Wilbur. "Altitudes" MS draft.

Since his original gift more than 40 years ago, Wilbur has been depositing his manuscripts in the Archives & Special Collections. We currently hold more than 60 boxes of original manuscripts, artwork, correspondence, business records, and ephemera that will ultimately be left to the college. Researchers interested in working with these materials must seek permission directly from Richard Wilbur.