Wednesday 11 April 2012

The Rain in the Trees by W S Merwin

I first came across W S Merwin's poetry in Earth Shattering an anthology of environmental poetry edited by Neil Astley, which I reviewed here. So I was interested to read a full collection by this poet who has been described as a master of modern poetry.

W S Merwin is a poet who is closely connected to nature and many of the poems in this collection reflect that connection. He has a gift for arresting phrases: 'the sea remembering all of its waves' from Coming to the Morning and 'white gulls riding a knowledge older than they are' from The Salt Pond.

The poems in The Rain in the Trees mostly deal with loss -the loss of nature; the loss of a relationship, the loss of indigenous language and the insights that gave into landscape.

everything begins so late after all
when the solitaires have already gone
and the doves of Tanna

when the Laughing Owls have

long been followed by question marks

and honeycreepers and the brown

bears of Atlas

the white wolf and the sea mink have not been seen
by anyone living

from Before Us

Merwin's soft spoken insights mourn a world where too much loss is being taken for granted. He does offer hope though too:

I saw the duck catching

the colors of fire

as she moved over the bright glass

and I glided after

until she dove

and I followed in the white canoe

and look what I find
long afterwards
the world of the living

from The Duck

This is wonderful moving poetry, worth reading over and over, both for the beauty of the writing and for the connection with nature that is embedded in it.

The Rain in the Trees by W S Merwin, published by Alfred A Knopf


Caroline Gill said...

Thank you for this recommendation - these are always welcome!

PJ said...

Finding someone who can say things we wish we had is always sweet. It's been a good long while since I've read Merwin, thanks for the reminder.

EG CameraGirl said...

Beautifully written. The tone matches the rhythm matches the words.

Kay said...

One of my favorite poets. Back in 2007 I was home with my Mom who had just had hip replacement surgery. We were watching a news show on TV and Merwin was being interviewed. He read some of his work and we were blown away! It was a few days past Christmas and my brother had given us both gift cards to a bookstore. I went the next day and bought the only 2 Merwin books they had. I brought the smaller one home and left the larger one with Mom. I am still wanting to read more..and I am not a huge poetry fan. He strikes a spot in my soul...Thanks for the post!

Carol Steel said...

You are right. The poetry captures well the angst of the losses in the environment and also the tenacity and regeneration of the natural world. I will look for this book.

HKatz said...

Lovely. There's something so haunting about the lines:

when the Laughing Owls have
long been followed by question marks

mansuetude said...

I first took The Rain in the Trees and three or four other slim volumes of Merwin out of the library at about twenty two, and read them by the pool on a hot summer day, swimming and reading, swimming and dozing. i was falling in love with language--Merwin seemed to turn the phrases into nature--not words, though it was words.

I would have loved to hear him read. Plus he has such beautiful cheekbones and eyes. :)

RG said...

Good to mix in the hope with the angst!