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Leadership in Richard Wilbur's ‘For the Student Strikers’

Jehanne Dubrow

Keywords: American poetry; leadership; student strikers; Vietnam; Wesleyan University


In 1970, at the height of American campus unrest over the war in Vietnam and domestic turmoil, the poet Richard Wilbur was asked by students at Wesleyan University to write a poem supporting their strike. The poem Wilbur wrote, ‘For the Student Strikers,’ displeased the students: not surprisingly, for it is less a paean to youthful zeal and idealism than a gentle rebuke or correction. Wilbur urges the striking students to listen to others' voices, and to recognize the humanity even in their most visible and intimate opponents, sheriffs and guardsmen. Wilbur's insistence on empathy is an enduring lesson for those who presume to lead and champion social and political change.

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