Finding The Words For Wonder

by Dish Staff

W.S. Merwin recites his poem “Yesterday”:

Fiona Sampson appreciates how the poems in The Moon before Morning, the former Poet Laureate’s latest volume, “don’t explore topics so much as enact a kind of close attention to them that is indistinguishable from rapture”:

The movement and music of these poems is so involving that it’s easy to miss their underlying world view. Everything is connected, and everything is also always in motion. If Merwin were a philosopher, we would call him a pre-Socratic and place him alongside Heraclitus: “Even if I were to return it would not be / the place we came to one evening down a narrow lane / […] leading down to the edge of a small river” as his poem ‘Still’ says. If Merwin were a physicist he would belong with Robert Brown of Brownian motion.

Other poets have tried to capture this perpetual motion. Fredrich Hölderlin wrote about the “on-rushing word”; Percy Bysshe Shelley‘s rapturous wordiness attempted to act out revolutionary motion. But Merwin shows us that the discipline of attention, “a time of waiting / hoping to hear”, is enough.

Calling Merwin one of the few great living poets, Sampson adds a recommendation: “Read him while he is still contemporary.”