The Corner

Metaphysics, Anglicanism, Poetry, and The Whole Darn Thing

Rick: You asked last week whether the low-keyed dogma-averse wilfully-imprecise Anglican outlook still has any influence in the USA. Well, I refer you to Daniel Mark Epstein’s article in the current (April ‘05) issue of The New Criterion, titled “The Metaphysics of Richard Wilbur.” It’s an excellent piece, on one of the very few American postwar poets worth reading.

Here is Wilbur’s Episcopalianism, according to Epstein: “And then, Wilbur’s religion is apparently a complex matter, as he once stated in an interview: ‘I’m afraid I’m not very catechistic,’ and ‘what doesn’t particularly interest me is the Creed, although I find that I can say it.’ Well. This doesn’t sound like T.S. Eliot or some other paint-by-the-dots Episcopalian, but a man with an idiosyncratic spiritual life.”

Naturally I enjoyed the swipe at T.S. Poseur—sorry, Eliot. For your pleasure, though, the following article (“Travels in ‘The Waste Land,’” by Adam Kirsch) is a worshipful tribute to the old fraud. At least I think it is; I fell asleep after the first paragraph.

And how nice to see metaphysics get an airing. IMS, when the Younghusband expedition got to Lhasa in 1904, the Tibetan government official they found themselves dealing with bore the title “Grand Metaphysician.” We could use one of those in Washington.

A Wilbur story. Assembling my “36 Great American Poems” CD , I needed permissions for all the poems. This is a suicide-inducing chore in the case of dead poets, as you have to find out who has the rights, then spend hours arm-wrestling with publishers and lawyers. Wilbur, however, was (and is) still alive, so I just wrote to him directly. He sent back a charming letter (old-fashioned blue letter-paper, manual typewriter), saying he was flattered that I wanted to use his poem in my collection, that I was free to do so, and that I should pay him whatever I thought it was worth! I think I sent $100, which is about the average for a poem. What a gent.


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