Coinciding with W. S. Merwin being appointed poet laureate of the US for 2010-11, I started reading some of his poetry - starting with The Shadows of Sirius, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2009 and also have his National Book Award winning 'Migration: New and Selected Poems' (a book I had perused through some years back) by my nightstand.
But before I get into the poems, I am really enjoying reading his interview with Bill Moyers shortly after winning the Pulitzer in 2009. I think reading poetry book reviews and also interviews like this greatly enhances the reading of the poetry itself. For example, I read and enjoyed the poem "Still Morning" from The Shadows of Sirius. But I wondered what the "patch of sunlight" was about. And then I found that Moyers and Merwin talk about it. Read this excerpt below, which also includes the poem in its entirety.
BILL MOYERS: So, what about this poem in your new book? "Still Morning."
It appears now that there is only one
age and it knows
nothing of age as the flying birds know
nothing of the air they are flying through
or of the day that bears them up
and I am a child before there are words
arms are holding me up in a shadow
voices murmur in a shadow
as I watch one patch of sunlight moving
across the green carpet
in a building
gone long ago and all the voices
silent and each word they said in that time
while I go on seeing that patch of sunlight
BILL MOYERS: That patch of sunlight. Where was it?
W.S. MERWIN: Actually it was in the church in Union City, New Jersey which has been torn down many, many years ago.
BILL MOYERS: Your father's church?
W.S. MERWIN: And I was being held up. And may even have been when I was baptized, you know? Very, very early. I can remember it. I remember the man in a brown suit, who was holding me. And I said this to once to my mother. And she said, "You can't possibly remember something back that far." And I said, "Who was the man in the brown suit, who was holding me? I never saw him again." And she said, "Oh, yes. That was Reverend so and so. And he came for a visit. And he said he would hold you for the ceremony." And I never saw him again. But I remember being held up and watching the green carpet and that patch of sunlight.
BILL MOYERS: You did grow up right across the river in Metro New York, New Jersey, looking out on the skyline of New York.
W.S. MERWIN: Which was silent.
BILL MOYERS: Silent?
W.S. MERWIN: Yeah. New York was silent. That was extraordinary. And that still, to me, is haunting. You know, to be able to think of that skyline that I saw as a child. And you could hear sounds from the river. There was a river traffic, which is gone, most of which is gone. The ferries back and forth, all the time. And ferrying of whole trains went across on ferries, you know, on barges. And I would spend as much time as I could in the back of the church looking down on Hoboken Harbor and on the river and on the city over there. And the city was absolutely silent. Then, of course, you took the ferry over there all the noise of New York was there. And I found that very exciting.
Also, I wondered what The Shadows of Sirius meant... here's an excerpt from the interview where Merwin so beautifully explains what it is about.
Moyers asks: Now, Sirius is the dog star, the most luminous star in the sky, twenty-five times more luminous than the sun. And yet, you write about it's shadow. Something that no one has never seen. Something that's invisible to us. Help me to understand that.
Merwin replies: That's the point. The shadow of Sirius is pure metaphor, pure imagination. But we live in it all the time. We are the shadow of Sirius. There is the other side of-- as we talk to each other, we see the light, and we see these faces, but we know that behind that, there's the other side, which we never know. And that — it's the dark, the unknown side that guides us, and that is part of our lives all the time. It's the mystery. That's always with us, too. And it gives the depth and dimension to the rest of it.
More about Merwin and his poems later.