Wilbur's "Cottage Street" per Alberto

Subject: Cottage Street
Date: Wed, 3 Nov 1999 00:32:15 -0400
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Just some opening thoughts-- The speaker of the poem, Wilbur himself, in
his comfortable, cushy existence, is confronted by an ardent and radical
new poet, who seems to be the voice of the future, and feels a mixture of
jealousy, condescension, anger, paternalism, impotence and sadness.  His
world is pure milquetoast. Mother-in-law, oddly referred to by both her
names, living forever (like the phoenix) is serving tea to her visitors.  
It's a tiny small world with few choices, few colors, even the red of the
tea tray is only suggested by "Canton."  Tiny choices: the tea, weak or
strong? milk or lemon? each taking civilized turns to express his/her
choice; all very polite--the visit is long but they stay to do their share
in cheering up poor Mrs. Plath and her strange, slumped daughter.  There
is marked contrast between the frightened Plaths and the confident
Wilburs.  The title is old fashioned (place, year...like the beginning of
a letter from John Adams to wife Abigail..."Philadelphia, 1776...Dear
Abigail:") and reflects the quaintness and complacency. He speaks almost
smugly of "his office": the responsibility of his position, his duty, his
cross to bear, he must exemplify happiness (why *exemplify* it?  isn't he
authentically happy?).  Only *half* ashamed, he cannot bring himself to
bless (approve of, praise, endorse) Plath. He feels like a self-appointed
lifeguard who didn't see her drowning (didn't want to?) and now she (as in
a Stevie Smith poem) has washed ashore, dead, and it's his problem to
solve, the body having been "swept up to *his* shallows."  I think he
admires (is jealous of?) her vision and artistry, feels impotent in the
little chat where the (support) group mildly "recommends" life to her as
if recommending the newest Steven King novel, Wilbur all the time feeling
that it's his artistic voice that may be drowning, while Plath's is
surfacing.  And pleasant mother-in-law shall live and die gracefully,
genteely, while Plath will be "condemned" to live a life just long enough
to fulfill her talent in poems he thinks are "free and helpless and
unjust."  How ambivalent, but what great praise finally. Though more
talented that Salieri was, Wilbur seems to feel he's facing Mozart and
doesn't know how to handle it.