"I can remember feeling full of the power of a just cause and believing that power would not fail me. It failed me or I failed it. We didn't really change the way Americans lived, unless you take hairstyles seriously," he once said.
The Essential W.S. Merwin traces a poetic legacy: seven decades of audacity, rigor, and candor distilled into one definite volume curated to represent the very best works from a vast oeuvre, from his 1952 debut, A Mask for Janus, to 2016’s Garden Time. The Essential W.S.
In this collection of essays, Tom Sleigh investigates the ways private life, selfhood, and aesthetics are served by poetry written in the first person, and uses multiple forms to explore identity and the limits of subjectivity. Sleigh discusses his own writing, as well as work by poets including Elizabeth Bishop, Anne Bradstreet, Seamus Heaney, Sir Walter Raleigh, Tomas Tranströmer, and Derek Walcott to inspire new ways to think about poetic craft.
Like many other poems in the 1977 collection, this one--written to the spirit of a young girl--reflects Merwin's change to a more positive sense of his unconscious. The spirit or girl is, presumably, a new manifestation of the same guardian or spirit addressed throughout The Moving Target, the essential quality of whose voice here, that of "gold in the dark," contains the light of the positive vision. This light is connected not only with a joyous laughter ("you laughed through your whole childhood"), but with the lighting and guarding of a subterranean treasure, the "treasure under my house / unlit until the night before you appeared." This new, joyful guardian replaces the "beloved spiders" that formerly guarded the treasure, a restatement of Merwin's essential change from an attitude of ambivalence to one of unmitigated joy regarding the "treasure" of his unconscious.
Commentary - After the Flood - W.S. Merwin - Anti Essays
Merwin's phrase "a constellation of flowers" collapses the jewel/flower variants to the single hybrid image of flowers shining so brightly they resemble stars; the bright colors such flowers would inherently possess, however, would make them seem less like stars than living jewels, and it is this sense of them toward which Merwin apparently aims. The same kind of collapse occurs in the last two lines of the stanza, in which first the islands themselves, and then--in an imaginative telescoping of the image's visual logic--the entire planet becomes a living jewel that burns "at the root one fire."
W.S. Merwin: To Plant a Tree Press Release Pressroom THIRTEEN
With the last of his fears changed to joy, his "beloved spiders" become part of the light as he writes that "shining cobwebs trailed from my fingers." His position here is beyond anything reached by Poe and essentially Emersonian: he has become what the earlier American referred to as an "analogist," standing in the "center of things," so that a "ray of relation passes from every other being to him" (Nature, Col. Works 1:19). These are visible here as cobwebs.
In addition to the flowers and jewels, the light and bright colors that identify the positive visionary experience, then, Merwin is also aware of the sense of joy and wholeness which also characterize such episodes. Accepting his own death in this collection, he simultaneously accepts the death-like, timeless quality of the unconscious: the faith reflected in his request that his mother lead him in the "dark to come," the self-knowledge behind his awareness that "fear is one aspect of joyful guardians," the love with which he addresses that female spirit imaged in "Kore"--all these underlie his hopeful courting of such states in "The Love for October," when he writes, "come again shining glance in your own time" (TCF 47).
The Ends of the Earth: Essays [W
The poem is stark, the words ordinary and monosyllabic (except the almost acerbic “information”), and the thought is compressed in such a way as to create a potent balance of irony and tenderness. The poem works toward economy, clarity, purity of diction, and emotional force. This is clearly Merwin’s aesthetic from The Moving Target onward, when he begins to exert his proper originality.