Thursday, July 29, 2010

Richard Wilbur II

Clearly, I am not the only one borderline obsessed with True Blood. Its near-pornographic violence and sex make me feel like I need to wash my soul out with soap after each episode. And yet: I am transfixed. The show is an addiction I have no intention of forsaking.

Given that we are amid prime True Blood season, I thought I’d give you a poem about vampires. There really aren’t enough of them, I think. This one pulls of a neat trick – by focusing on the crux of longing for vampirism, it avoids excessive corniness and makes light of its gothic trappings. I think it’s a very fine poem.

The Undead

Even as children they were late sleepers,
Preferring their dreams, even when quick with monsters,
To the world with all its breakable toys,
Its compacts with the dying;

From the stretched arms of withered trees
They turned, fearing contagion of the mortal,
And even under the plums of summer
Drifted like winter moons.

Secret, unfriendly, pale, possessed
Of the one wish, the thirst for mere survival,
They came, as all extremists do
In time, to a sort of grandeur:

Now, to their Balkan battlements
Above the vulgar town of their first lives,
They rise at the moon's rising. Strange
That their utter self-concern

Should, in the end, have left them selfless:
Mirrors fail to perceive them as they float
Through the great hall and up the staircase;
Nor are the cobwebs broken.

Into the pallid night emerging,
Wrapped in their flapping capes, routinely maddened
By a wolf's cry, they stand for a moment
Stoking the mind's eye

With lewd thoughts of the pressed flowers
And bric-a-brac of rooms with something to lose,--
Of love-dismembered dolls, and children
Buried in quilted sleep.

Then they are off in a negative frenzy,
Their black shapes cropped into sudden bats
That swarm, burst, and are gone. Thinking
Of a thrush cold in the leaves

Who has sung his few summers truly,
Or an old scholar resting his eyes at last,
We cannot be much impressed with vampires,
Colorful though they are;

Nevertheless, their pain is real,
And requires our pity. Think how sad it must be
To thirst always for a scorned elixir,
The salt quotidian blood

Which, if mistrusted, has no savor;
To prey on life forever and not possess it,
As rock-hollows, tide after tide,
Glassily strand the sea.

Richard Wilbur I

Richard Wilbur on

Richard Wilbur on Wikipedia


  1. Beautiful poem.. so many vampires in our lives... sucking our blood/energy... I loved the way he phrases "to pray on life forever and not possess it" I have never watched True Blood... you make me want to try

  2. It's good. Gory, but good. A well-done supernatural soap opera. :) Glad you enjoyed the poem!

  3. I read this poem sometime in grade school, many years ago, and never forgot it! Can still quote it from memory. It is transfixing! And yes, I love "True Blood" (HBO series and Charlaine Harris's book series)...

  4. Indeed. A very fine poem. I memorized it many years ago, but lost the book I'd found it in and wondered if I had remembered it all. I had, all except one line. "Into the pallid night emerging. I am also appalled and compelled by True Blood.

  5. Long one of my favourite American poems.