Until I was 20, I believed that “everything will be OK in the end”. That year, grief over the death of a child, following hard on the deaths of two friends, nearly overwhelmed me. Nonetheless, I kept my balance until I encountered a different kind of tragedy: to my horror I learned that not one, but two, friends had allegedly sexually abused children.

“I thought life was fundamentally OK,” I wailed to my father when he found me weeping, completely undone by the news.

“I knew bad things happened, but I thought the important things turned out OK, one way or another, and I guess they don’t.”

I paused, waiting for Dad to explain what I was missing.

“Oh, Bria,” he said. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t want you to find that out until you were at least 25.”

It’s this kind of exact and unsparing comfort – for comfort it was – that I’ve come to count on in the poetry of Richard Wilbur, who died on October 14, aged 96. A two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner and skilled translator, as well as poet, he was known for his formal and emotional precision. Yet I loved his work not for its literary merit, but because he made me less afraid. Like my father’s words, his poems assured me of two things: first, that he wouldn’t lie to me, and second, that if he could live peacefully knowing the depth of the world’s pain, perhaps I could, too.

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