Poetry Review: “April 5th, 1974” by Richard Wilbur

This month, MontanaWriter is featuring poems about the month of March. 

Richard-Wilbur-PoemsI rely on the “internets” for quick searches and indexes of poems when I am trying to find poems with certain themes (poems about birds, stars, the month of March). Primarily I use these searches to refresh my memory. It is an efficient way to find things, but it is fraught with all the usual perils of internet searching.

Today’s poem is an example. The poem itself is quite familiar to me. But on several sites, this Richard Wilbur poem is entitled “March 26, 1974″ (indicating that it was directly written in honor of Robert Frost’s 100th birthday). While on a number of other – and admittedly more reliable – sites the same poem is entitled “April 5th, 1974.”

Since I cannot find my own paperback copy of Wilbur’s poems to verify this for myself, and since I think that even if it was not written for Frost’s birthday it should have been, and since my hectic work schedule has meant that I have not posted for awhile, I am going with the “March 26th” title for now. BUT will follow-up with the definitive title in a subsequent post.

Richard Wilbur is known as both a translator and poet. His poetry shows the influence of Frost and also, I think, W.H. Auden. It would have been difficult for a poet of his time not to be influenced by both those poets.

Wilbur was a “traditionalist” in rhyme and meter. That is one of the reasons that he is not read as much these days. His translations though remain quite popular.

Whether intentionally written in honor of Frost’s birthday or not, this seems like a perfect March 26th poem.


April 5th, 1974

The air was soft, the ground still cold.
In wet dull pastures where I strolled
Was something I could not believe.
Dead grass appeared to slide and heave,
Though still too frozen-flat to stir,
And rocks to twitch, and all to blur.
What was this rippling of the land?
Was matter getting out of hand
And making free with natural law?
I stopped and blinked, and then I saw
A fact as eerie as a dream.
There was a subtle flood of stream
Moving upon the face of things.
It came from standing pools and springs
And what of snow was still around;
It came of winter’s giving ground
So that the freeze was coming out,
As when a set mind, blessed by doubt,
Relaxes into mother-wit.
Flowers, I said, will come of it.


Listening with a pencil and my ear, these are the lines I marked:

What was this rippling of the land?
Was matter getting out of hand
And making free with natural law?

The Catholic in me cannot resist the reference to “natural law” anymore than I can resist the obvious reference to “Mending Wall.” The references to familiar Frost poems are many in this poem: pasture, stone, snow. Lines and images from Frost tumble about in our head as we read this poem.


Comments are closed.