(Guest post by Ashley Busse, PhD)
Episcopalians are the beneficiaries of a wonderful repertoire of rich and gifted poetry, few have contributed more than Richard Wilbur. As you may know, he’s the author of the beautiful hymn, “A Stable Lamp is Lighted” (#104, Hymnal 1982). Wilbur’s poetry is not only stunningly elegant, profound, and moving, it also clearly reflects many of the values and beliefs of the Episcopal Church, of which he is a longtime communicant.
For example, across his 80-year career (b. 1921, he published his first poem at age 8), Wilbur has remained committed to the use of traditional verse forms and meters, even as these have gone in and out of fashion. Despite what some might see as the constraints and restraints of these forms, Wilbur has said that they are “simply instruments or contraptions which heighten and empower [a poet’s] words,” enabling him to express simultaneously timeless and relevant truths about the human condition. This idea might resonate with those of us nourished by the Book of Common Prayer, which both structure and set free our worship.
Wilbur’s poetry reflects the optimism and hope that the Episcopal faith offers in the midst of a dark and sometimes terrifying world. He once told an interviewer, "I'm the sort of Christian animal for whom celebration is the most important thing of all…When I go to church, what doesn't particularly interest me is the Creed, although I find that I can say it... What I respond to is, ‘Lift up your hearts!’ It's lines like that in the Mass that belong to me, belong to my kind of religious experience."
Wilbur recognizes how every time we celebrate the Eucharist in the Episcopal Church, we are reminded of the joy God inspires.
Wilbur has called poetry “a balancing act in which one trie[s] to enlist all of one's voices in the rendering of an inclusive view.” At its best, the Episcopal Church embodies a similar poetry, even during our fiercest times of debate and conflict. So thank you, Richard Wilbur, for reminding us through your verse that, “whatsoever love elects to bless/ Brims to a sweet excess/ That can without depletion overflow.” We’re rather fond of you!
To read some of Wilbur’s Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry, click here:
Ashley Denham Busse is a ‘Cradle Episcopalian’ who holds a PhD in English literature from George Washington University and has a love for all things Anglican and literary. She lives in the Washington, DC area with her husband and their two young daughters, of whom she is also rather fond.