Friday, March 20, 2009

Merwin and Wang Wei:
"Behind the Billowing Clouds!"

Right now, I'm very, very slowly reading The Shadow of Sirius by W. S. Merwin. Though the poems are short and can be read through quickly, a glacial pace is recommended. At least, that's what seems to be working for me.

Without Knowing

If we could fly would there be numbers
apart from the seasons
in sleep I was flying south
so it was autumn
numberless autumn with its leaves
already far below me
some were falling into
the river of day
the invisible surface
that remembers and whispers
but does not tell even in sleep
not this time

W. S. Merwin

I just keep mulling this poem over and over in my mind, a grit of sand and a pearl all at once. I will no doubt be reporting back at other things found in this collection.

The next poem in the collection I Hear My Gate Slam, that I talked about previously, has a sort of lyrical segue with the Merwin poem, so I'll just end with that one rather than the handful more I had intended to finish with.

River rising, cold and deep.
Autumn rain darkens the heavens.

You ask about the Chungnan Moutains —
look in your heart behind the billowing clouds!
Wang Wei



Anonymous said...

Hi Don:

Late last year I read "The Shadow of Sirius" along with another interesting Merwin collection, "Present Company". "The Pinnacle" is a striking and rather eerie poem from "The Shadow Of Sirius". Yes, I think it is difficult to read Merwin quickly. There's a sort of tremendous and ponderous weight to his lines and general thought process, even though the text can appear light from a visual point of view. The lack of punctuation contributes to this apparent though deceiving lightness in appearance. Also, I wanted to mention I received a copy of Bly's "Turkish Pears In August", a volume you featured in a past post. I've read it twice now and plan another read soon. It is an incredible collection, simply stunning - thank you for the "heads-up" on that. Occasionally Bly uses strange and awkward adjectives and/or metaphors - the odd one I found was "primitive hay". What is primitive hay? Well, who cares? Even with the unusual adjective, the poem was still amazing . . . A bit of "Silence In The Snowy Fields" here & there perhaps? Not much, though. It amazes me that two poets well into their eighties are writing poetry of this magnitude.


Greg Schwartz said...

never heard of Wang Wei, but I like that one. there's something about the Chinese poets... their poems seem to just flow.