A Letter to My Daughter: Richard Wilbur’s “The Writer” #Poetry #RichardWilbur #Daughter #Writer

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My daughter has turned eighteen. As John Lennon once wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” (“Beautiful Boy”). He understood, as a father, how quickly time escapes us. For all of us who have become parents, this truth is painfully real. It drives me more into the present, trying to savor every moment I have with my children, but I lose that sense of immediacy and focus far too easily.

Just this evening, my wife and daughter arrived home after a week away during which my daughter competed in a national speech tournament. I’m sure she did not do as well as she would have liked, not making it past the first round, and the disappointments of life weighed heavy and real. Parenting through those hard times in life is challenging. What do you say that isn’t trite? How do you convey life-giving truth without offering a parental platitude? “You have to say that; you’re my dad.”

When my wife shared via text that my daughter did not move on in the tournament and that she was processing by herself, I immediately thought of this poem. Ironically, my daughter is very quiet, yet she speaks through her poetry and delivers moving speeches, both interpretive and platform (i.e. informative and persuasive). I can really put it no better than what Wilbur has written. Though I may not wish her simply “a lucky passage,” I do wish her the full joy of being who she is, operating in her gifts, and sharing them with a world desperate for what is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and good.

The Writer by Richard Wilbur

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.

From New and Collected Poems, published by Harcourt Brace, 1988. Copyright © 1969 by Richard Wilbur.

One thought on “A Letter to My Daughter: Richard Wilbur’s “The Writer” #Poetry #RichardWilbur #Daughter #Writer

  1. Sometimes tears are healing, but sometimes they are just hard. These we hard tears I cried as I read this, but hard doesn’t make them any less healing. I read this and feel all the trouble and trauma that life lays at the steps of young people-even more so today 😔. BUT our Heavenly Father is ALL hope. Thank you for being such a tremendous father. I am honored to be with you on this journey ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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