The excerpt below is from a poem entitled “In Loving Memory of the Late Author of Dream Songs.” It was written by John Berryman’s good friend, William Meredith. William Meredith taught at Connecticut College for many years, and when he died our school held a memorial for him. I picked up Richard Wilbur at his house in Connecticut in my 1998 Toyota Camry LXE so that he could read a poem at Meredith’s memorial service. His house was in the beautiful Connecticut countryside, and I was a little early so a woman who I assumed was his caretaker had me wait in the sitting room. It was late autumn. I sat on a very stiff couch and his Siamese cats entered while I waited, upright on the sofa: two of them. They stared into my soul with their four blue eyes. Richard Wilbur was much easier to be around than his cats. We talked about weather and dangerous curves of the highway, and he told me a story that took place in Key West, and he told me another story where the punch line involved some sentence which proved a poet he admired knew Latin even better than he did. His voice was very soft and I did not mention that I wrote poetry, or that I had found poetry relatively recently and now knew I had to study it and keep writing poems. I stole a line from something he said to me during that car ride and put it in a poem, but I changed the phrase by taking out a word, and I didn’t credit him, though there’s an invisible footnote there that only I can see. I can show you to that poem, it’s in my thesis. It’s a love poem, but that doesn’t help you much: they all are, especially the ones since the thesis.
Do we wave back now, or what do we do?
You were never reluctant to instruct.
I do what’s in character, I look for things
to praise on the riverbanks and I praise them.
We are all relicts, of some great joy, wearing black,
but this book is full of marvelous songs.
Don’t let us contract your dread recidivism
and start falling from our own iron railings.
Wave from the fat book again, make us wave back.
We are all relicts of some great joy, some of us even newer than relics–some of us perhaps just made.