Review by New York Times Review
Nostalgia, grief, fear for our planet and a subdued resolve in the face of advancing years arrive together in the Hawaii-based Merwin's 22nd collection of new poems, which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize. As in all of his verse since the late 1960s, Merwin does away with punctuation, letting line breaks and sense determine syntax and pace. The results suggest whispers, laments, accounts of long-ago memories, even voices from an underworld: "the dead are not separate from the living," he says; "each has one foot in the unknown." Looking back at old photographs and childhood houses, at horse pastures and "splintery unlit" schoolrooms, Merwin represents faint consolations, autumn and nightfall, and a parent's dying words: "All day the stars watch from long ago / my mother said I am going now / when you are alone you will be all right." Lines move forward almost ceremonially, confident in the simplicity of their diction, like "clear water revealing / no color but that of the gray / stone around it." As he has before, Merwin writes gravely of species in peril, among them our own: endangered bats and departed songbirds "were singing of youth / not knowing that they were singing for us." Yet most of the work in this capacious book considers not the earth's mortality but Merwin's own: poems shift from his first years to his most recent (he will turn 82 this September), from the helplessness of a young child to the profound resignations of old age. Stephen Burt's most recent book is "Close Calls With Nonsense: Reading New Poetry."
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [October 27, 2009]
Review by Booklist Review
With no punctuation and a solitary launching capital letter, Merwin's elegant poems are built to the measure of breath and sweep the page like palm fronds. Yet each word is old, lustrous, and solid. Only a poet as seasoned as Merwin can wrest so much meaning from dark, moon, wake, river, and song. The questions he poses are as old as night, and the answers are forever elusive. The contrast between airiness and earthiness is intrinsic to master poet Merwin's newest poems, lithe works steely in their testing of the mesh of memory and sensuousness; the coil of time, our continuing fiction ; and the ripple of shadows attendant upon the brightest star, the most radiant life. Childhood reminiscences summon the dead and recall the now obsolete; the underworld masquerades as a coal mine or a shadow without form or the darkness that is the mind of day. And Merwin contemplates the earth's verdant singularity in the vault of darkness, our entreaties straying far out past the orbits and webs. --Seaman, Donna Copyright 2008 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Starred Review. In his best book in a decade--and one of the best outright--Merwin points his oracular, unpunctuated poems toward his own past, admitting, I have only what I remember, and offering what may be his most personal, generous and empathic collection. Somehow, he manages to dissolve the boundaries between one time and another, seeming to look forward to the past or remember what has yet to happen, as in a recollection of traveling to Europe by boat and seeing a warship I recognized/ from a model of it I had made/ when I was a child/ and beyond it/ there was a road down the cliff/ that I would descend some years later/ and recognize it/ there we were all together/ one time. The poems show the marks of having weathered ...the complete course/ of life, but also feel fresh and awake with a simplicity that can only be called wisdom: the morning is too/ beautiful to be anything else. Gorgeous poems about enduring love melt time as well, looking toward a moment when we will be no older than we ever were. These are among Merwin's best poems, because, as he says, it is the late poems/ that are made of words/ that have come the whole way/ they have been there. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
Having published over 50 books since 1952, Merwin could be excused for resting on his laurels. Instead, he continues to work hard, here offering poems clearly formed in a refiner's fire. "Somewhere the Perseids are falling/ but in the stillness after the rain ends/ nothing is to be heard but the drops falling." Wisely, without bitterness, these poems capture that essential stillness. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.