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W.S. Merwin is one of America's leading poets. His prizes include the 2005 National Book Award for his collected poems, Migration, the Pulitzer Prize, the Stevens Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and Lannan Foundation. He is the author of dozens of books of poetry and translations. He lives in Hawaii, where he cultivates endangered palm trees.
The eight lyrical odes included in Merwin's recent Migration: New & Selected Poems were harbingers of this full-length collection. Nearing 80, the Pulitzer Prize winner seems especially mindful of age and mortality, and these poems-like a series of heartfelt thank-you notes-offer homage to the things of this world. In a manner that recalls the cool, spare diction of H.D., Merwin addresses the local and the nondescript ("To the Dust of the Road"; "To a Mosquito") as well as the abstract and the universal ("To Purity"; "To Absence"). In the plainest language possible, he attempts to tease out the essence of the things that he personifies. The tongue is "you for whom/ all the languages have been named." Mistakes are "the ones who/ were not recognized/ in time." In the corner of his eye, "a moment/ appears before I/ can recognize it/ yet when I turn to face you/ you have stepped aside/ leaving me only/ the look of things/ I once thought I knew." The emotional timber rarely rises above muted melancholy, and Merwin's thoughtful, measured pace never quickens, but the poems are suffused with a warmth and clarity achieved over six decades of disciplined dedication to his art. Recommended for larger poetry collections.-Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Merwin's 24th volume of poems is his first since last year's massive new-and-collected Migration: it may be the much-lauded poet's clearest and most unified in many years, and it is almost certainly his most moving. Following Kenneth Koch's New Addresses, its 101 poems address a person, place, object or abstraction ("To the Shadow," "To the Stone Paddock by the Far Barn"). Almost all seek, and many achieve, a deliberate pathos over the passage of time: "I will wait and you can follow alone," concludes Merwin (who won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize) in "To Lili's Walk," "and between us the night has come and gone." Often stark, at times nearly imageless, the poems recall particular moments in Merwin's own life, comment on the act of writing or introduce gentle humor. ("To the Consolations of Philosophy" begins "Thank you but/ not just at the moment.") Some of the best, such as "To My Grandfathers," remember dead family members and friends. Short-lined free verse pieces "To the Soul" and "To Forgetting" may become new anthology signatures or provoke new attention to this elder statesman of American verse. The book's greatest weakness may be its length; so many lyric poems with similar structures and near-identical tones make it harder for the best few to stand out. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.