With his twenty-second volume of poetry, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner Wright has produced the sort of contemplative book that can only be written out of a long and deeply considered life. In these meditations he speaks again of many of the subjects that have characterized his career: the natural world, the poetry of ancient China, and the mysteries of the sublime. “How easy contentment comes,” he remarks, “Old age at this end, time’s double door at the other.” But for Wright, contentment does not mark complacency; these poems continue to probe for “one truth,” even as he admits: “Sorry, pal, there isn’t one.” Wright’s voice represents a well-integrated fusion of traditions, in which the invocation “O Lord” feels as natural as a colloquial “pal” or “dude,” and the anaphoric rhythm of Christian prayer is effortlessly paired with the steady focus of the Chinese poets Wright so loves. While, for the most part, these poems peacefully accept the fact of mortality, anxiety about aging sometimes manifests itself in an urgent nostalgia for youth: “Time is your enemy, / time and its fail-safe disgrace. / Open your arms, boys, take off your shirts.” Still, Wright’s wisdom is more generous than rueful. “There’s light, we learn, and there’s Light,” his poems tell—and help to teach—us.
This book review originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2014.