Thursday, March 13, 2008


Although I don't subscribe anymore, I've first come across many of my favorite poems in The New Yorker. "Mayflies" by Richard Wilbur is another example. I also remember where and when I first read this and that it made me cry. I can't remember another poem that's had that effect on me.

I sent this poem to a dying friend who'd reminded me that Wilbur wrote the lyrics to Candide. On reading it, my friend asked me to explain it to him. I thought of the Neruda character's response in Il Postino when he's asked to explain his poetry.

"When you explain poetry, it becomes banal. Better than any explanation is the experience of feelings that poetry can reveal to a nature open enough to understand it."
By Richard Wilbur

In somber forest, when the sun was low,
I saw from unseen pools a mist of flies,
In their quadrillions rise,
And animate a ragged patch of glow,
With sudden glittering - as when a crowd
Of stars appear,
Through a brief gap in black and driven cloud
One arc of their great round-dance showing clear.

It was no muddled swarm I witnessed, for
In entrechats each fluttering insect there
Rose two steep yards in air,
Then slowly floated down to climb once more,
So that they all composed a manifold
And figured scene,
And seemed the weavers of some cloth of gold,
Or the fine pistons of some bright machine.

Watching those lifelong dancers of a day
As night closed in, I felt myself alone
In a life too much my own,
More mortal in my separateness than they -
Unless, I thought, I had been called to be
Not fly or star
But one whose task is joyfully to see
How fair the fiats of the caller are.

©2005 Richard Wilbur
I didn't know anything about mayflies before I read the poem but you can read more about them by following that link.

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1 comment:

Deborah Paris said...

Suzanne- thank you so much for sharing these poems, particularly the one by your mother. There is a great connection between poetry and painting - both , as Frost said, "saying one thing and meaning another." Looking forward to reading your favorites.