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This review is taken from PN Review 189, Volume 36 Number 1, September - October 2009.

EARTH, STARS AND MEMORY W.S. MERWIN, The Shadow of Sirius (Bloodaxe) £9.95

I touch the day
I taste the light
I remember (‘Eye of Shadow’)

W.S. Merwin is one of those long-lived, much honoured American poets born in the 1920s, of a generation which included Allen Ginsberg, John Ashbery, Adrienne Rich, Richard Wilbur, Donald Justice, W.D. Snodgrass, Anthony Hecht and Galway Kinnell (Merwin’s college classmate). Some of these poets have written well into old age. Merwin himself has produced an enormous number of books of poetry, translations and prose. Twenty years ago, David Perkins wrote of him (in A History of Modern Poetry: Modernism and After): ‘In the course of his career Merwin’s style has transformed itself many times, but his personality has not. His poetry is moody, suggestive, dreamy, contemplative, remote, and impersonal.’ It is accessible, too, and nowadays more personal. The title of Merwin’s latest collection, The Shadow of Sirius, is its only inscrutable moment. Sirius is the brightest star, the dog star. In his evocation of it, one is tempted to see Merwin’s awed appreciation of living worlds and the shadows memory casts.

It is as if the promise of early poems such as ‘Dictum: A Masque of Deluge’ (‘We shall find/Dictions for rising, words for departure’) and ‘For the Anniversary of My Death’ (‘When the last fires will wave to me/And the silence will set out’) is being realised. These new poems will appeal most to those who (unlike myself) have a real sensitivity to the numinous - and to ...


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