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YEAR’S END
by Richard Wilbur

Now winter downs the dying of the year,   
And night is all a settlement of snow;
From the soft street the rooms of houses show   
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,   
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin   
And still allows some stirring down within.
 
I’ve known the wind by water banks to shake
The late leaves down, which frozen where they fell   
And held in ice as dancers in a spell   
Fluttered all winter long into a lake;   
Graved on the dark in gestures of descent,   
They seemed their own most perfect monument.
 
There was perfection in the death of ferns   
Which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone   
A million years. Great mammoths overthrown   
Composedly have made their long sojourns,   
Like palaces of patience, in the gray
And changeless lands of ice. And at Pompeii
 
The little dog lay curled and did not rise   
But slept the deeper as the ashes rose
And found the people incomplete, and froze   
The random hands, the loose unready eyes   
Of men expecting yet another sun
To do the shapely thing they had not done.
 
These sudden ends of time must give us pause.   
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time. Barrages of applause   
Come muffled from a buried radio.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.
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“Year’s End” appears in Richard Wilbur’s Collected Poems 1943-2004 (Harcourt, 2004).

Photo: Fern fossil

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Richard Purdy Wilbur (born March 1, 1921) is an American poet and literary translator. He was appointed the second Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1987, and twice received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, in 1957 and 1989. (Read more at wikipedia.org)