Monday, April 25, 2011

Synthesis Response

In 1954, at the age of 25 W.S Merwin received his first poetic honor from the Yale Younger Poets, accordingly and as a testament to the young man’s promising potential the publishing was only his first. Marked by his formal and classical style, Merwin’s early days were of both spectacular success and promising potential. As the rather destitute son of violent, grief-ridden family, Merwin was privileged with the presence of renowned mentors and strong academics alike; no doubt an influential upbringing. Over a five-decade career, Merwin has held the title of one of the most prolific poets of his time. Although he has written essays, plays, translations of French, Spanish, Latin, and Portuguese and even written television scripts, his poetry has transcended criticism and time alike. He has published over twenty volumes of poetry, in multiple languages. However W.S Merwin has and will not be judged by his lengthy resume of poetic praise, but rather celebrated as “testing the bounds and power of language through imagery driven by the quest for knowledge of the human condition”.
Merwins early days were marked by his rather formal and classical style. His poetry dealt a great deal with classical literature and mythology of mainly Western Europe (although he dabbled in Middle-Eastern additionally). Robert Graves heavily influenced his earliest works, a man he knew fairly well. Many of his poems featured animals and mythical allusions. However his early work and success soon gave way to a more mature and independent style. Eight years later, Merwin began to develop a more autobiographical way. He experimented with metrical irregularity and as a result his poems became less orderly and controlled. He played with the forms of indirect narration and developed on contemporary poetic trends.
More recently, Merwin has developed an extremely loose, free flowing style, almost Zen-like as some have come to describe. His latest poems are dense and imagistic, emulating his love of nature and pacifism. His poems have taken on a dream like quality; full of praise for the natural world. The rigidity and regimental style of old has given way to free flowing verse, employing unconventional stylistic measures. His affinity for nature and its beauty have become his influence, as he alludes to tropical rainforests often.
It is hard to conceal the trend of W.S Merwin’s poetic style. Much like the interests and influences of his private life, his poetry has evolved from the academic rigidity of his youth, to the Zen-like openness of his accomplished current state. Nonetheless Merwin has become one the most prolific poets of recent memory. He continues to write in his Hawaii pineapple plantation atop a dormant volcano on the coast of Maui.

The Poet's View


A nice short look into some of the enduring qualities and stylistic measures of W.S Merwin. The vid illustrates several core values of Merwin and how these principles are emulated in his poetry. The video also offers some insight into how to become a poet, which from the sound of it seems rather difficult.

Poetic Influences

Poetic Influences:

            W.S Merwin’s first book of poems, which earned him the Yale Younger Poets Prize series in 1952, is both a prime example of Merwin’s interests and influences. More symbolic of his early work, his first poems were heavily influenced by themes of mythology, classical and medieval. This aspect was in large respect due to Wallace Stevens and Robert Graves, both of which wrote extensively on the matter. Of the two men, Graves was the most significant in Merwin’s poetic career. The two first met when Merwin was hired for a private tutor of Grave’s son. Beyond introducing Merwin the top brass of the literary world, Grave’s was of great influence in Merwin’s professional career. Graves was well known for his work regarding mythology. Indeed something that would later prove significant Merwin’s publications.
Upon relinquishing his job with Grave’s, a volume of Merwin’s verse, The Mask of Janus, was accepted for publication. The poem was renowned for its strong infusion of traditional forms, and its wide-ranging allusion to classical literature and mythology, a testament to Grave’s influence.
The poemsI researched and now have come to present  one Merwin’s later works. The poem (See analysis below) is heavily influenced by classical literature (as it is such). But beyond acting as a testament to Merwins wide array of literary talents, the verse illustrates the strong connection with classical literature and mythology in Merwin’s literary career.  An influence conceived very much by Robert Graves.

Canto XXXI Dante’s Purgatorio (2000)

            The poem below is not an organic production of Merwin, but rather the product of his well versed talents in translation. As I noted above, the poem aptly applies to requirement D, because it is both classical work, and one of influential status.

Canto XXXI Dante’s Purgatorio

"O thou who art beyond the sacred river,"
Turning to me the point of her discourse,
That edgewise even had seemed to me so keen,
She recommenced, continuing without pause,
"Say, say if this be true; to such a charge,
Thy own confession needs must be conjoined."
My faculties were in so great confusion,
That the voice moved, but sooner was extinct
Than by its organs it was set at large.
Awhile she waited; then she said: "What thinkest?10
Answer me; for the mournful memories
In thee not yet are by the waters injured."
Confusion and dismay together mingled
Forced such a Yes! from out my mouth, that sight
Was needful to the understanding of it.
Even as a cross-bow breaks, when 'tis discharged
Too tensely drawn the bowstring and the bow,
And with less force the arrow hits the mark,
So I gave way beneath that heavy burden,
Outpouring in a torrent tears and sighs,20
And the voice flagged upon its passage forth.
Whence she to me: "In those desires of mine
Which led thee to the loving of that good,
Beyond which there is nothing to aspire to,
What trenches lying traverse or what chains
Didst thou discover, that of passing onward
Thou shouldst have thus despoiled thee of the hope?
And what allurements or what vantages
Upon the forehead of the others showed,
That thou shouldst turn thy footsteps unto them?"30
After the heaving of a bitter sigh,
Hardly had I the voice to make response,
And with fatigue my lips did fashion it.
Weeping I said: "The things that present were
With their false pleasure turned aside my steps,
Soon as your countenance concealed itself."
And she: "Shouldst thou be silent, or deny
What thou confessest, not less manifest
Would be thy fault, by such a Judge 'tis known.
But when from one's own cheeks comes bursting forth40
The accusal of the sin, in our tribunal
Against the edge the wheel doth turn itself.
But still, that thou mayst feel a greater shame
For thy transgression, and another time
Hearing the Sirens thou mayst be more strong,
Cast down the seed of weeping and attend;
So shalt thou hear, how in an opposite way
My buried flesh should have directed thee.
Never to thee presented art or nature
Pleasure so great as the fair limbs wherein50
I was enclosed, which scattered are in earth.
And if the highest pleasure thus did fail thee
By reason of my death, what mortal thing
Should then have drawn thee into its desire?
Thou oughtest verily at the first shaft
Of things fallacious to have risen up
To follow me, who was no longer such.
Thou oughtest not to have stooped thy pinions downward
To wait for further blows, or little girl,
Or other vanity of such brief use.60
The callow birdlet waits for two or three,
But to the eyes of those already fledged,
In vain the net is spread or shaft is shot."
Even as children silent in their shame
Stand listening with their eyes upon the ground,
And conscious of their fault, and penitent;
So was I standing; and she said: "If thou
In hearing sufferest pain, lift up thy beard
And thou shalt feel a greater pain in seeing."
With less resistance is a robust holm70
Uprooted, either by a native wind
Or else by that from regions of Iarbas,
Than I upraised at her command my chin;
And when she by the beard the face demanded,
Well I perceived the venom of her meaning.
And as my countenance was lifted up,
Mine eye perceived those creatures beautiful
Had rested from the strewing of the flowers;
And, still but little reassured, mine eyes
Saw Beatrice turned round towards the monster,80
That is one person only in two natures.
Beneath her veil, beyond the margent green,
She seemed to me far more her ancient self
To excel, than others here, when she was here.
So pricked me then the thorn of penitence,
That of all other things the one which turned me
Most to its love became the most my foe.
Such self-conviction stung me at the heart
O'erpowered I fell, and what I then became
She knoweth who had furnished me the cause.90
Then, when the heart restored my outward sense,
The lady I had found alone, above me
I saw, and she was saying, "Hold me, hold me."
Up to my throat she in the stream had drawn me,
And, dragging me behind her, she was moving
Upon the water lightly as a shuttle.
When I was near unto the blessed shore,
"Asperges me," I heard so sweetly sung,
Remember it I cannot, much less write it.
The beautiful lady opened wide her arms,100
Embraced my head, and plunged me underneath,
Where I was forced to swallow of the water.
Then forth she drew me, and all dripping brought
Into the dance of the four beautiful,
And each one with her arm did cover me.
'We here are Nymphs, and in the Heaven are stars;
Ere Beatrice descended to the world,
We as her handmaids were appointed her.
We'll lead thee to her eyes; but for the pleasant
Light that within them is, shall sharpen thine110
The three beyond, who more profoundly look.'
Thus singing they began; and afterwards
Unto the Griffin's breast they led me with them,
Where Beatrice was standing, turned towards us.
"See that thou dost not spare thine eyes," they said;
"Before the emeralds have we stationed thee,
Whence Love aforetime drew for thee his weapons."
A thousand longings, hotter than the flame,
Fastened mine eyes upon those eyes relucent,
That still upon the Griffin steadfast stayed.120
As in a glass the sun, not otherwise
Within them was the twofold monster shining,
Now with the one, now with the other nature.
Think, Reader, if within myself I marvelled,
When I beheld the thing itself stand still,
And in its image it transformed itself.
While with amazement filled and jubilant,
My soul was tasting of the food, that while
It satisfies us makes us hunger for it,
Themselves revealing of the highest rank130
In bearing, did the other three advance,
Singing to their angelic saraband.
"Turn, Beatrice, O turn thy holy eyes,"
Such was their song, "unto thy faithful one,
Who has to see thee ta'en so many steps.
In grace do us the grace that thou unveil
Thy face to him, so that he may discern
The second beauty which thou dost conceal."
O splendour of the living light eternal!
Who underneath the shadow of Parnassus140
Has grown so pale, or drunk so at its cistern,
He would not seem to have his mind encumbered
Striving to paint thee as thou didst appear,
Where the harmonious heaven o'ershadowed thee,
When in the open air thou didst unveil?

Canto XXXI of Dante’s Purgatorio is one the many verses of Dante’s Purgatorio. Apparently (I know little on the matter so I will do my best summarize) the basic premise is that it is the sequel to Dante’s Inferno.  It starts off just where Inferno began, in Hell.  Specifically, Canto XXXI is when

Beatrice concludes her harsh remark, and Dante is left incapable of speech. He is overcome by remorse, admits his guilty, and faints for shame. When he comes to his sense, he discovers that Matelda has drawn him into the stream, Lethe, immersing him completely so he drinks some of the waters. The she leads him on the other side, where he is accepted by dancing ladies. At this point he can stare at Beatrice in the eyes, where he sees the reflection of the griffin, and the mystical union between Dante and Beatrice takes place. *

Allegorically, the Purgatorio represents Christian life, in that Christian souls arrive escorted by an angel, apparently sining in exitu Israel de Aegypto. This installment is notable for its demonstration of the medieval ethos regarding spherical Earth. Purgatorio is the second installment of Dante’s work; it falls between Inferno and Paradiso.

1915 by Robert Graves

            More of an obscure connection to the influences of Merwin’s work, the devote aversion to conflict and imperialism, prevalent in both Merwin’s poems and private life, can be attributed to the early writings of Graves and his experience during WW1. Merwin is a pacifist by nature, and as such opposes anything contradictory to his values. As one of the more influential people in his life, Grave’s wrote extensively on his experiences during war, and no doubt some of these rubbed off on Merwin.
            The following poem bellow was written and conceived from Grave’s wartime deployments. On August 1914 Grave’s enlisted as a junior officer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He fought in the Battle of Loos and was injured in the Somme offensive in 1916. During his deployments he published his first collection of poetry, Over the Brazier. By the wars conclusion, and after being injured severely for a second time, Grave’s had written three volumes on the matter, a lot of which would later be published.

1915 by Robert Graves

I’ve watched the Seasons passing slow, so slow,
In the fields between La Bassée and Bethune;
Primroses and the first warm day of Spring,
Red poppy floods of June,
August, and yellowing Autumn, so
To Winter nights knee-deep in mud or snow,
And you’ve been everything.

Dear, you’ve been everything that I most lack
In these soul-deadening trenches—pictures, books,
Music, the quiet of an English wood,
Beautiful comrade-looks,
The narrow, bouldered mountain-track,
The broad, full-bosomed ocean, green and black,
And Peace, and all that’s good.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Yesterday by W.S Merwin

Yesterday by W. S. Merwin

My friend says I was not a good son
you understand
I say yes I understand

he says I did not go
to see my parents very often you know
and I say yes I know

even when I was living in the same city he says
maybe I would go there once
a month or maybe even less
I say oh yes

he says the last time I went to see my father
I say the last time I saw my father

he says the last time I saw my father
he was asking me about my life
how I was making out and he
went into the next room
to get something to give me

oh I say
feeling again the cold
of my father's hand the last time

he says and my father turned
in the doorway and saw me
look at my wristwatch and he
said you know I would like you to stay
and talk with me

oh yes I say

but if you are busy he said
I don't want you to feel that you
have to
just because I'm here

I say nothing

he says my father
said maybe
you have important work you are doing
or maybe you should be seeing
somebody I don't want to keep you

I look out the window
my friend is older than I am
he says and I told my father it was so
and I got up and left him then
you know

though there was nowhere I had to go
and nothing I had to do

The poems end leaves the reader with feeling of sadness, even desperation.  The son’s detailing of his fathers relationship is anything but optimistic. However, what is most distressing about the poem, is not the decayed relationship between a father and son, but rather the disregard to which son approaches his father. The son is acknowledging his failure to keep in touch, but does nothing about it. He knows that he could do better, maybe by going more “there once a month or maybe even less” but chooses to disregard his obligations as a son, and instead goes “nowhere” and does “nothing”.
There’s a degree of relevancy in this poem to all of our lives. We struggle to keep in touch and to hold together the fabric of our relationships, but sometimes and by our own actions, the struggle is futile. The fact that the son acknowledges his own doings and yet chooses to watch his relationship decay makes it all the more worse.
Merwin employs a multitude of literary devices in this poem; in order to both heighten its purpose and to its readability. For example, the use of ANAPHORA and the repetition of the line “I say”. The reasoning for the ANAPHORA may be to develop a sense of conversation. Merwin also uses APOSTRAPHE, CAESURA, ENJAMBMENT, and ENVOI. All of these devices contribute to the poems flow and style. The APOSTRAPHE and ENVOIV create the sense that a person is speaking to reader, while CAESURA and ENJAMBMENT contribute to the poems style and flow.

For the Anniversary of my Death by W.S Merwin

For The Anniversary Of My Death by W. S. Merwin

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveller
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

            “Every year without knowing it I have passed the day/ when the last fires will wave to me”.
The opening line offers the reader a gloomy and pessimistic tone, reinforcing the dismal title. The first line is a concept that Merwin is envisioning his own death, and the “fires” the “will have to me” might be a METAPHOR for people waving good-bye to him. The term fire might also be a reference to hell [TROP].
The unique quality of the poem is that enough information isn’t provided to draw a conclusion about where, when and how he died. Merwin offers the readers his analysis of his death instead. From this point, we can see that Merwins view of death is dreary at best because to him it means a sense of emptiness.
There is a shift from the first to second stanza. In the first Merwin is talking as if he is alive, then the poem shifts. The second stanza refers to “then”, simply put when he’s no longer living.
The concept of eternity plays heavily in poem. In line 5, “Like a beam of a lightless star” symbolizes  [Allusion] eternity. In addition, Merwin portends to his opinion of death, in a rather strangely embracing way.
Merwin is unique in writing this poem because instead of pondering death he offers his intuition about death. In the concluding lines he solidifies the uncertainties of death with the statement “And bowing not knowing to what”.

When You Go Away by W.S Merwin

When You Go Away by W. S. Merwin

When you go away the wind clicks around to the north
The painters work all day but at sundown the paint falls
Showing the black walls
The clock goes back to striking the same hour
That has no place in the years

And at night wrapped in the bed of ashes
In one breath I wake
It is the time when the beards of the dead get their growth
I remember that I am falling
That I am the reason
And that my words are the garment of what I shall never be
Like the tucked sleeve of a one-armed boy

            In the poem “When You Go Away”, dark tone and a multitude of literary devices heighten Merwin’s persistent obsession with death. The overall tone of the poem is dark and sinister. From the poems opening lines we, the readers get the sense of eminence, almost as is something significant will occur. However this is short lived, the poem finishes in a still dark and dreary fashion but offers little in the way of climax. 

Unknown Bird by W.S Merwin

Unknown Bird by W. S. Merwin

Out of the dry days
through the dusty leaves
far across the valley
those few notes never
heard here before

one fluted phrase
floating over its
wandering secret
all at once wells up
somewhere else

and is gone before it
goes on fallen into
its own echo leaving
a hollow through the air
that is dry as before

where is it from
hardly anyone
seems to have noticed it
so far but who now
would have been listening

it is not native here
that may be the one
thing we are sure of
it came from somewhere
else perhaps alone

so keeps on calling for
no one who is here
hoping to be heard
by another of its own
unlikely origin

trying once more the same few
notes that began the song
of an oriole last heard
years ago in another
existence there

it goes again tell
no one it is here
foreign as we are
who are filling the days
with a sound of our own

            Arguably, Merwin is attempting to state that we all are like an unknown, or in the case of the poem an unknown bird. Through this Merwin is exerting the point that we are all trying to fit in even though we may be foreign to others. To play on the use of birds, we all have a song to sing and molding that song to conformities of larger groups is difficult of inevitably going to happen. The short phrasing and lack of punctuation [Caesura, Enjambment] contributes to the poems stylistic flow.