Wednesday, April 14, 2010

W.S. Merwin

Because April is National Poetry month, I've been reading and researching, W.S. Merwin. He won his second Pulitzer Prize for The Shadow of Sirius last year. Hearing him read from it at one of last years Wordstock events was one of the highlights of the festival, especially because Merwin himself comes across as such a lovely human being. It is always disappointing when someone one admires turns out to be arrogant or unpleasant, so it was doubly rewarding to have it confirmed that Merwin is neither.

I first came in contact with Merwin in grad school via his translations of Pablo Neruda. As a student of language and dabbler in translation, I admired his facility with language and ability to create translations that captured not only meaning but spirit and emotion. Literal translation is easy, but it is not such an easy thing to convey the feel of the original. Good translation is a fine art unto itself.

For a long time, I went along blithely unaware that Merwin was a gifted poet in its own right. It was only many years later that I ran into one of his poems, fell in love, then realized that it was my old friend. For a great piece on him (including some examples of his poetry) from Bill Moyers Journal, click here.

"The Nomad Flute."
W.S. Merwin, from The Shadow of Sirius

You that sang to me once sing to me now
let me hear your long lifted note
survive with me
the star is fading
I can think farther than that but I forget
do you hear me

do you still hear me
does your air
remember you
o breath of morning
night song morning song
I have with me
all that I do not know
I have lost none of it

but I know better now
than to ask you
where you learned that music
where any of it came from
once there were lions in China

I will listen until the flute stops
and the light is old again

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