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W S Merwin, The Moon Before Morning, Review

Merwin is an American giant whose work I knew shamefully little till I read The Moon Before Morning. It was a revelation. There’s an immediate sensuous delight in the poems’ imagery and sound. The writing is in many ways exceptionally clear and at the same time richly evocative. Above all, its power seems to come from a combination of inner peace with a passionate love of the world’s gifts – a peace and a love it makes you share. Based on the little Merwin I’d previously read, I think this attitude to the world was achieved slowly and with difficulty.

Even … Continue Reading

W S Merwin, “Elegy for a Walnut Tree”

Another truly extraordinary poem in The Moon Before Morning is “Elegy for a Walnut Tree”. You can link to it here.

Addressing a tree as “old friend” – how audacious a use of the pathetic fallacy is that! But the way Merwin does it makes us almost forget that he isn’t talking to a person. The words are so simple, so vivid, so bare of emotive trickery and at the same time carry such powerful emotional implications, that the idea that it’s strange to address these thoughts to a tree is almost swallowed up by a sense of how … Continue Reading

W S Merwin “Long Afternoon Light” – 2

You can link to “Long Afternoon Light” by clicking here.

“Long Afternoon Light” speaks to and eludes the understanding, feeds it and makes it hungry for more by a remarkable combination of clarity and uncertainty. Reading it, the boundaries of sentences and the meanings of words keep shifting and shimmering in our minds.

Take the title. It creates a visual, spatial impression of the way light falls in the late afternoon, with long sloping beams stretching between shadows, and at the same time the temporal sense of “long” suggests how time seems to stretch out and slow as a summer … Continue Reading

W S Merwin, “Long Afternoon Light” 1

You can find a link to “Long Afternoon Light” here.

As with so many of the poems in The Moon Before Morning, the sheer, almost incantatory beauty of this one draws you to read it again and again even as it continues to elude complete comprehension. The first three lines alone bear endless repetition for the hypnotic smoothness of their phonetic and rhythmical flow.

Although it’s smooth, this flow is made rich and subtle by the complication of syntax in line two. Here, “how long ago” is a parenthesis, and so logically it represents a syntactical disjunction, but the absence … Continue Reading