Richard Wilbur

"Advice to a Prophet"

Advice to a Prophet

In the year 1961, Richard Wilbur published "Advice to a Prophet" in his book Advice to a Prophet and Other Poems.

Richard Wilbur

  1. Born on 1 March, 1921.
  2. 1942: Earned an A.B. degree from Amherst College.
  3. 1947: Earned an A.M. degree in religion from Harvard University.
  4. Worked as a professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts from 1957 until 1977.
  5. Twice earned a Pulitzer Prize. Once in 1957 and the second time in 1989.

"Advice to a Prophet" by Richard Wilbur

When you come, as you soon must, to the streets of our city,

Mad-eyed from stating the obvious,

Not proclaiming our fall but begging us

In God’s name to have self-pity,


Spare us all word of the weapons, their force and range,

The long numbers that rocket the mind;

Our slow, unreckoning hearts will be left behind,

Unable to fear what is too strange.


Nor shall you scare us with talk of the death of the race.

How should we dream of this place without us?

The sun mere fire, the leaves untroubled about us,

A stone look on the stone’s face?

Meaning of underlined phrases

  1. weapons-the weapons of nuclear destruction that could have destroyed life on Earth.
  2. slow, unreckoning hearts, Unable to fear what is too strange-people could not understand destruction from the weapons because the end of all life was too abstract to be understood by people.
  3. should we dream of this place without us?- How people should imagine the world without life.

Advice to a Prophet, continued part 2/2.

Speak of the world’s own change. Though we cannot conceive

Of an undreamt thing, we know to our cost

How the dreamt cloud crumbles, the vines are blackened by frost,

How the view alters. We could believe,


If you told us so, that the white-tailed deer will slip

Into perfect shade, grown perfectly shy,

The lark avoid the reaches of our eye,

The jack-pine lose its knuckled grip


On the cold ledge, and every torrent burn

As Xanthus once, its gliding trout

Stunned in a twinkling. What should we be without

The dolphin’s arc, the dove’s return,


These things in which we have seen ourselves and spoken?

Ask us, prophet, how we shall call

Our natures forth when that live tongue is all

Dispelled, that glass obscured or broken


In which we have said the rose of our love and the clean

Horse of our courage, in which beheld

The singing locust of the soul unshelled,

And all we mean or wish to mean.


Ask us, ask us whether with the worldless rose

Our hearts shall fail us; come demanding

Whether there shall be lofty or long standing

When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.

Meaning of underlined phrase, 2/2.

live tongue is all Dispelled-the existence of nature ends with annihilation of all life.

the rose of our love and the clean Horse of our courage-peoples' sense of life.

When the bronze annals of the oak tree close.-when comes the end of nature and all that people know of life.


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