John Garvey on Richard Wilbur

John Garvey on Richard Wilbur

“Richard Wilbur died last month. He was, Dana Gioia said, the finest poet of his generation and the greatest American Christian poet since Eliot.

Here’s an example of why I liked him so much. It’s part of a toast he gave at his eldest son’s wedding. (I recited it at the marriage of our youngest.)

“St. John tells how at Cana’s wedding feast/ The water pots poured wine in such amount/ That by his sober count/ There were a hundred gallons at the least./ It made no earthly sense unless to show/ How whatsoever love elects to bless/ Brims to a sweet excess/ That can without depletion overflow.”

…Wilbur’s wedding toast showed two things I liked. Beauty is one. The other is a conviction that, if we look closely enough, we will see that the world is fundamentally good, even blessed.

The miracle at Cana made no earthly sense, but there it was. The wine overflowed, as the five barley loaves multiplied later in John’s Gospel.

The physics of it is puzzling. But try this instead. We know it works like that with love. The more we give away, the more we have.”

John Garvey is President of Catholic University of America.

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