Richard Wilbur. Photo:

During World War II the Allied forces in Europe had trouble maintaining a staff of cryptographers. There were few who could do the difficult work of deciphering enemy codes. Some got killed and others cracked up under the pressure of constant shelling and sleep deprivation.

Two who survived with their wits intact were Willard Van Orman Quine (1908– 2000), whom many consider the most influential American philosopher of the late twentieth century, and Richard Wilbur (born 1921), the lyric poet. In 1950 they found themselves sitting across the table from each other in the dining room of the Harvard Society of...


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