April 16, 2011

Poets for April 16, 2011 - W. S. Merwin

The second poet for today is the current poet laureate, W. S. Merwin.
We turned from silence and fearfully made
Our small language in the place of the night
 - W. S. Merwin (in a poem in his 1st book of poems: A Mask for Janus, which in 1952 was selected by W. H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets.)
William Stanley Merwin (Born: September 30 1927, NYC, NY)

I should take you directly to Merwin's poetry - "Poetry so empty it could contain the world...poetry that becomes empty in the very act of opening itself to the world" (Reference). 

There is much to treasure in Merwin's body of work over the last fifty plus years and I highly recommend his book of poems, Migrations - New and Selected Poems (around which I have a very interesting story of coincidence to tell but will save it for some other day). 

Here today I will share four poems, all taken from his recent Pulitzer Prize winning The Shadow of Sirius, a book that left me in awe and has not surprisingly received many rave reviews. Having won his first Pulitzer Prize in 1971 for The Carrier Of Ladders, the 2009 win for The Shadows of Sirius marks his second Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

I also highly recommend reading this W. S. Merwin interview with Bill Moyers, shortly after he won the Pulitzer for Shadows of Sirius, lauded as "a collection of luminous, often tender poems that focus on the profound power of memory." In fact, let me start with what Merwin said in the above interview with Moyers about the "The Shadow of Sirius" before going to poems from the book.
Bill Moyers: 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.
W.S. Merwin: That's the point. The shadow of Sirius is pure metaphor, pure imagination. But we live in it all the time.
Bill Moyers: How so?
W.S. Merwin: 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.
And now the poems...

Nocturne II
by W. S. Merwin

August arrives in the dark

we are not even asleep and it is here
with a gust of rain rustling before it
how can it be so late all at once
somewhere the Perseids are falling
toward us already at a speed that would
burn us alive if we could believe it
but in the stillness after the rain ends
nothing is to be heard but the drops falling
one at a time from the tips of the leaves
into the night and I lie in the dark
listening to what I remember
while the night flies on with us into itself
by W. S. Merwin

It is at last any morning
not answering to a name
I wake before there is light
hearing once more that same
music without repetition
or beginning playing
away into itself
in silence like a wave
a unison in its own
key that I seem
to have heard before I
was listening but by the time
I hear it now it is gone
as when on a morning
alive with sunlight
almost at the year's end
a feathered breath a bird
flies in at the open window
then vanishes leaving me
believing what I do not see.

by W. S. Merwin

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
through themselves
and I am a child before there are words
arms are holding me up in a shadow
voices murmur in the 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
silent now
while I go on seeing that patch of sunlight.

The Laughing Thrush
by W. S. Merwin

O nameless joy of the morning
tumbling upward note by note out of the night
and the hush of the dark valley
and out of whatever has not been there

song unquestioning and unbounded
yes this is the place and the one time
in the whole of before and after
with all of memory waking into it

and the lost visages that hover
around the edge of sleep
constant and clear
and the words that lately have fallen silent
to surface among the phrases of some future
if there is a future

here is where they all sing the first daylight
whether or not there is anyone listening
If you want to enjoy some more excerpts from his poems, you can enjoy them at this tumblr site and the page for Merwin at the Univ. of Illinois English Dept. website for Modern American Poetry.

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