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Richard Wilbur, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, dies at 96

Richard Wilbur
BELMONT: Richard Wilbur, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and translator who intrigued and delighted generations of readers and theatergoers through his rhyming editions of Moliere and his own verse on memory, writing and nature, died. He was 96.
Wilbur died Saturday night in Belmont, Massachusetts, with his family by his side, according to friend and fellow poet, Dana Gioia.
The US poet laureate in 1987-88, Wilbur was often cited as an heir to Robert Frost and other New England writers and was the rare versifier to enjoy a following beyond the poetry community. He was regarded — not always favorably — as a leading “formalist,” a master of old-fashioned meter and language who resisted contemporary trends. Wilbur was also known for his translations, especially of Moliere, Racine and other French playwrights. His playful, rhyming couplets of Moliere’s “Tartuffe” and “The Misanthrope” were often called the definitive editions of those classic 17th-century satires.
“Moliere has had no better American friend than the poet Richard Wilbur,” The New York Times’ Frank Rich wrote in 1982. “Mr. Wilbur’s lighter-than-air verse upholds the idiom and letter of Moliere, yet it also satisfies the demands of the stage.”
Wilbur’s expertise in French literature eventually brought him to Broadway as a lyricist for Leonard Bernstein’s production of Voltaire’s “Candide,” which premiered in 1956. Numerous other writers, including Dorothy Parker and James Agee, had been unable to get along with the demanding team of Bernstein and Lillian Hellman.

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