At seventy-nine Richard Wilbur has survived most of the poets in the generation before him and some in the generation after. The new poems in Mayflies[1] often seem like things written forty years ago and put in long-term storage, but they could never be mistaken for the baroque, over-mannered manner of his early work. Wilbur was once master of the filigree, the apparently extraneous and precious detail, the verbal undercarving that can look like magic in a period of carving and as fussy and dust-catching as Grinling Gibbons for a long while thereafter.

That moment of high formal style after the Second World War, of early Lowell, Wilbur, and Merrill, might be due for a revival when meter again becomes a language taught to the young, not got second-hand by the middle-aged. The promises of New Formalism look threadbare twenty years after the school opened its doors, but most of its poets had to...


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