Thursday, July 2, 2009

July's Poet of the Month: W.S. Merwin

W.S. Merwin

"...Once once and once

In the same city I was born

Asking what shall I say

He will have fallen into his mouth

Men think they are better than grass

I return to his voice rising like a forkful of hay

He was old he is not real nothing is real

Nor the noise of death drawing water

We are the echo of the future

On the door it says what to do to survive

But we were not born to survive

Only to live..."

-an excerpt from W.S. Merwin's poem, "The River of Bees"

William Stanley Merwin was born in New York City on September 30, 1927. He was raised in Union City, New Jersey and Scranton, Pennsylvania, as the son of a Presbyterian minister, and began writing hymns as a child. His poetry, translations, and prose have won praise from literary critics since the publication of his first book. The spare, hard verse comprising the body of Merwin's work has been characterized by many as very difficult reading. However, it is generally agreed that this poetry is worth whatever extra effort may be required to appreciate it.

Although Merwin's writing has undergone many stylistic changes through the course of his career, it is unified by the recurring theme of man's separation from nature. The poet sees the consequences of that alienation as disastrous, both for the human race and for the rest of the world.

The poetic forms of many eras and societies are the foundation for a great deal of Merwin's poetry. His first books contained many pieces inspired by classical models. According to Vernon Young in the American Poetry Review, the poems are traceable to "Biblical tales, Classical myth, love songs from the Age of Chivalry, Renaissance retellings; they comprise carols, roundels, odes, ballads, sestinas, and they contrive golden equivalents of emblematic models: the masque, the Zodiac, the Dance of Death."

Literary Critic, Eric Hartley, also commented on the importance of Merwin's background in the Dictionary of Literary Biography: "From the first of his career as a poet, Merwin has steeped himself in other cultures and other literary traditions, and he has been praised as a translator. This eclectic background has given him a sense of the presence of the past, of timelessness in time that comes across emphatically in his poetry. Without some understanding of this background the reader cannot fully appreciate Merwin's poetry. Moreover, without such appreciation one cannot comprehend the thrust of Merwin's poetic and philosophical development."

Click on the PLAY button below to watch an excerpt on W.S. Merwin from, "The Poet's View: Intimate Profiles of Five Major American Poets."

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