Monday, April 13, 2009

W.S. Merwin:
The Whole Grammar of Waiting

A few weeks back, I posted a poem from W. S. Merwin's most recentvolume, The Shadow of Sirius. Well, I've spent the last two weeks going over this book and it is one of the very best books of American poetry I've read in quite sometime.

I haven't caught up with Merwin recently so perhaps I've missed some important changes in his verse. This volume contains relatively short poems (most are less than one page) in extremely plain language, without any punctuation at all. The later forces the reader to slow down, big-time: gleaning sense here takes imposing pacing and syntax that isn't always obvious in the reading.

Much of what is addressed has to do with memory and the past, not surprising as Merwin is into his 80's. Yet it is hardly a trip down Nostalgia Boulevard. There is a bittersweet tone to some of the pieces, but there is also a constant working and reworking of thought, a feeling through words for sense and something just beyond. There is some powerful, powerful verse here in an almost elegiac mode.

Here's another from this fine collection:

A Codex
It was a late book given up for lost
again and again with its sentences

bare at last and phrase that seemed transparent
revealing what had been there the whole way

the poems of daylight after the day
lying open at last on the table

without explanation or emphasis
like sounds left when the syllables have gone

clarifying the whole grammar of waiting
not removing one question from the air

or closing the story although single lights
were beginning by then above and below

while the long twilight deepened its silence
from sapphire through opal to Athena's iris

until shadow covered the gray pages
the comet words the book of presences

after which there was little left to say
but then it was night and everything was known
W. S. Merwin

And this brilliant piece:

Worn Words
The late poems are the ones
I turn to first now
following a hope that keeps
beckoning me
waiting somewhere in the lines
almost in plain sight

it is the late poems
that are made of words
that have come the whole way
they have been there
W. S. Merwin


Finally, today is the birthday of Jack Cassady, bassist from Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. Here's a little plea for chemical understanding. Happy B-day, Jack. Enjoy.

dancing butterflies--
my journey is forgotten
for a while
translated by David Lanoue



Anonymous said...

what else are we
saved for but the
memories of our

the shadow-play
with our own words

the wait


Anonymous said...

hallelujah ...

Charles Gramlich said...

that Issa haiku is very interesting. On Saturday Lana and I were headed out to the park when we saw two dancing butterflies and stopped to watch them.

John Grochalski said...

making my way through this volume now, and i have to agree just realy fantastic stuff. the layout and structure of the poems, however, do cause one to slow down and, in some instances, reread right away.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Charles, yes, that was a nice Issa piece ...

Jay, that's it - I found myself immediately reading a poem or section of a poem or even a line over and over, as if I hadn't been paying attention, but I had.

There is some first class magic there ...