Monday, 23 February 2015

Tuesday Poem: W.S. Merwin - The Moon Before Morning

I've just finished reading this new collection of W.S. Merwin's work and it's the first time I've really immersed myself in his poetry.  He has been a huge figure in American literature - 'arguably the most influential American poet of the last half-century', as it claims on the cover of the Bloodaxe edition of The Moon Before Morning. He's famous for his lack of punctuation so that the syntax, rhythm and form of the poem have to carry the weight of its meaning entirely, without written prompts on the page, so that it takes on the grace of oral prosody.

The poems in this collection are quiet and elegiac.  'Where will the meanings be/when the words are forgotten', asks one poem.  There are some beautiful images - I loved the refugee voles 'trickling' through the hay in this one:

Time in the Grass

In a few fields the first hay is lying
naked in its new fragrance as its color fades
and no one has stayed to see the noon light
dappling the small growth in the shade of the trees
beside the meadows that are still untouched
where the spring grasses go on rippling
in the shimmering daylight of their lives
and the voles clad in velvet shadows
trickle through their feet under the whispers
of the tall world while the clear notes
of crickets on all sides call keep calling
to the world to stay just as it is
they go on calling even when the grass has gone

I found a lot of favourites in this book.  Lear's Wife remembers her daughters 'with Goneril at my breast/I looked at the world/and saw blood in the darkness/and tried to wake'.   Telephone Ringing uses a line from Adrienne Rich as its starting point. Homecoming recalls a moment in the garden in late dusk when the poet looks up to see the geese returning from their summer migration 'half their weight gone to get them home'.

But this book is a kind of farewell - it looks back and savours a life well lived, not afraid to tackle the regrets or to re-visit a lonely, difficult childhood (The Green Fence). My particular favourite is a long poem called The Natural History of Forgetting.  Merwin was born in 1927, so he's been around for a long time.  How did I take so long to find him?

The Moon Before Morning
Published by Bloodaxe Books

The Tuesday Poets are an international group who try to post a new poem every Tuesday.  We take it in turns to edit the main website.  If you'd like to see what the others are posting click here to take you over to the main hub. 



6 comments:

  1. A lovely poem ...such a beautiful regard of nature. Thank you Kathleen and W.S.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for sharing this -- and so lovely to see how this poet looks back on life so reflectively and honestly. I'll look for this collection, after seeing your recommendation. And this --

    dappling the small growth in the shade of the trees
    beside the meadows that are still untouched
    where the spring grasses go on rippling
    in the shimmering daylight of their lives

    -- lovely how he pays with the sounds of all those participles.

    Thank you for sharing this!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I also love the way he uses alliteration and vowel rhyme - 'few fields, first, fragrance, fades, naked, new,' and then 'hay, naked, fragrance, fades, stayed' - everywhere you look there's an echoing of sounds. It's very clever and utterly unobtrusive. Technically brilliant!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wonderful post. No punctuation, true, but a highly controlled syntax, with only two grammatical variations — the “call keep calling” in line 11, and the sort of single-line volta of line 13. Interesting how the “call keep calling” works as a final chirp in the spondaic cricket rhythm, or you might say, in Time’s heartbeat — the “few fields,” “first hay,” “noon light,” “small growth,” “spring grass,” “voles clad,” “tall world,” “clear notes,” then, finally, “call keep.” The chirping is what transitions us — via the volta — from that moment, at the foot of the grass, the “Time in the Grass” now, to the time that carries on when the grass is gone. Quite beautiful. Completely agree with you, a great selection, Kathleen. - Zireaux

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks Zireaux - lovely analysis!

    ReplyDelete