The Writer

| Miscellaneous Poetry Stuff

My first academic year at the University of North Texas will be over in a few, short weeks (tempus really does fugit). Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about one of my favorite poems by Richard Wilbur, “The Writer.” It’s a poem about learning and teaching, how difficult both kinds of work can be, the dangers that a teacher can fall into when s/he forgets the challenges of being a student, the risks involved when we make ourselves vulnerable enough to learn something new:

The Writer
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.

The life of learning is always a matter of life and death, or it should feel that way when we take our task seriously. So, today, as I lean forward, almost able to smell and taste the long summer ahead, I wish what I wished for my students before–the delights of reading, the pleasures of language, the rewards of critical thinking and self-reflection–but harder.