Poetry: The Book of my Enemy — Richard Wilbur’s Fabergé Egg Factory | clivejames.com
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Richard Wilbur’s Fabergé Egg Factory

If Occam’s razor gleams in Massachusetts
In time the Pitti Palace is unravelled:
An old moon re-arising as the new sets
To show the poet how much he has travelled.

Laforgue said missing trains was beautiful
But Wittgenstein said words should not seduce:
Small talk from him would at the best be dutiful —
And news of trains, from either man, no use.

Akhmatova finds echoes in Akhnaten.
The vocables they share a fortiori
Twin-yolk them in the selfsame kindergarten
Though Alekhine might tell a different story.

All mentioned populate a limpid lyric
Where learning deftly intromits precision:
The shots are Parthian, the victories Pyrrhic,
Piccarda’s ghost was not so pale a vision,

But still you must admit this boy’s got class —
His riddles lead through vacuums to a space
Where skill leans on the parapet of farce
And sees Narcissus making up his face.

Note (from Collected Poems)

A parody is nearly always a tribute as well as a critique, and this imitation was a particularly obvious case of the double role. Michael Donaghy was right to call Wilbur the greatest modern phrase-maker: any mimic of his diction is obliged to dig deep, in the hard effort to bring to him what he brought to La Fontaine. Laforgue said ‘Comme ils sont beaux, les trains manqués’, so my transcription is almost right. Alekhine was the Russian chess master. All the other proper names are either self-explanatory or not crucial. Their prevalence is true to one of the chief pleasures offered by Wilbur’s poetry when he came back to America after the fighting in Europe: he was a walking encyclopaedia, with a knack for making erudition an enchantment.