Tuesday was my birthday (I have as many years behind me now as Heinz has varieties), and my wife gave me, along with a gorgeous bluish-gray linen shirt, the Collected Poems of Richard Wilbur, one of my favorite living poets. I’ve only begun to explore it; I could quote what is still perhaps the poem of his I love best, “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World” (“Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry”), but I think instead I’ll go with “Matthew VIII, 28 ff.” (q.v.):

Rabbi, we Gadarenes
Are not ascetics; we are fond of wealth and possessions.
Love, as you call it, we obviate by means
Of the planned release of aggressions.
We have deep faith in prosperity.
Soon, it is hoped, we will reach our full potential.
In the light of our gross product, the practice of charity
Is palpably inessential.
It is true that we go insane;
That for no good reason we are possessed by devils;
That we suffer, despite the amenities which obtain
At all but the lowest levels.
We shall not, however, resign
Our trust in the high-heaped table and the full trough.
If you cannot cure us without destroying our swine,
We had rather you shoved off.


  1. Son of a … Is it July already? How did that happen?
    Many happy returns, Hat!

  2. my fav rw is “Speech for the Repeal of the McCarran Act”–which is still pertinent.

  3. bulbul: Yeah, to you it’s still Saturday, May 31, 2008. (Zing!)
    graywyvern: Ain’t it the truth!

  4. Time to put on the pointy paper, Hat. Happy birdie, two ewe.

  5. rootlesscosmo says

    Happy b-day. That’s a lovely poem, thanks for posting it.

  6. Happy birthday!
    Do you know Wilbur lives up the road from you in Cummington?
    He’s “in the book”: http://www.cummington-ma.gov/Artisans.php , if you want to get that book signed.

  7. See also this event he’ll be at on July 12 at the Bryant Homestead, which is worth a visit if you haven’t been:

  8. Thanks for sharing your b-day present. Brilliant poem. Someday I’d like to assemble an anthology of Biblical exegesis from modern poems, arranged in order like some kind of secular Zohar.

  9. John McIntyre says

    And the patter song for Pangloss:
    Dear boy, you will not hear me speak
    With sorrow or with rancor
    Of what has paled my rosy cheek
    And blasted it with canker.
    ‘Twas Love, sweet Love, that did the deed
    Through universal laws,
    And how should ill effects proceed
    From so divine a cause?
    All bitter things conduce to sweet,
    As this example shows:
    Without the little spirochete
    We’d have no choclate to eat,
    Nor would tobacco’s fragrance greet
    The European nose.

  10. Many happy returns, Hat!

  11. Arthur Crown says

    So you’re two years older than me, and John Emerson is five.
    Well, you have both been using your time well. On the other hand I really don’t look fifty-five.
    Happy birthday.

  12. My 50th birthday was on Thursday (the Glorious Second of July), and I got a T-shirt that said “GRANDPA EST. 2008) on the front and “Only have grandchildren, not children” (or words to that effect) on the back.

  13. Bonne anniveraire from Normandy …
    ..and yes, the pressie is in the post.

  14. “Only have grandchildren, not children”
    That’s the rule I’ve lived by, and it’s worked out well.
    And I too look far younger than my years!

  15. jamessal says

    Happy Birthday! I may have to buy that collection myself. Thanks for posting — and for all your posts! They seem to make a lot of people just a little bit happier. You’re the man!

  16. Love Calls Us is an excellent, excellent poem.

  17. Belated happy birthday – and enjoy Independence Day! And thanks for introducing me to Richard Wilbur.

  18. Tillykke med fødselsdagen!

  19. This world and this life are so scattered, they try me,
    And so to a German professor I’ll hie me.
    He can well put all the fragments together
    Into a system convenient and terse;
    While with his night-cap and dressing-robe tatters
    He’ll stop up the chink of the whole Universe.
    – Heinrich Heine, tr. Charles Leland.
    Belated happy birthday/4th of July!

  20. Happy birthday! And thanks for the poem.

  21. С Днем Рождения, Hat!

  22. Merry birthday and felicitous aging!
    … I saw your edit to Köcek on Wikipedia and am struck by a Wikipedia-related comment: the Gadarenes hailed from “Walled Place”, Gadara, which is the origin of the name of Cádiz (albeit from the Phoenician) and the many Agadirs (Berber via Punic).
    Err… anyway, happy birthday.

  23. Thanks very much—as you probably assumed, that’s exactly the kind of tidbit I love!

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