Winner of a Pulitzer Prize 2009
Poetry Book Society Recommendation
US Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin was arguably the most influential American poet of the last half-century – an artist who transfigured and reinvigorated the vision of poetry for our time. Bloodaxe published his Selected Poems in 2007. At 82, Merwin produced The Shadow of Sirius, ‘his best book in a decade – and one of the best outright’ (Publishers Weekly), a collection which has won him his second Pulitzer Prize.
The nuanced mysteries of light, darkness, presence, and memory are central themes in his latest collection. ‘I have only what I remember,’ Merwin admits, and his memories are focused and profound-the distinct qualities of autumn light, a conversation with a boyhood teacher, well-cultivated loves, and ‘our long evenings and astonishment’. In ‘Photographer’, Merwin presents the scene where armloads of antique glass negatives are saved from a dumpcart by ‘someone who understood’. In ‘Empty Lot’, Merwin evokes a child lying in bed at night, listening to the muffled dynamite blasts of coal mining near his home, and we can’t help but ask: How shall we mine our lives?
‘One of the great poets of our time, W. S. Merwin, passed away recently. A brilliant writer and conservationist, Merwin spent the final period of his life on a former pineapple plantation in Hawaii, working to restore the surrounding rainforest. During a visit to the White House in 2010, while he was serving as U.S. poet laureate, we connected over the place we both called home and our shared responsibility to protect the planet. This collection offers a good sampling of his work. I've drawn inspiration from Merwin's writing because it teaches us about ourselves, our world, and how we as humans connect to nature. Most of us don't spend a lot of time on poetry but Merwin's death reminded me of how a good poem can inspire and instruct. So if you're in the mood, give one of them a try.’ – Former President of the United States Barack Obama paying tribute to Merwin, and recommending The Shadow of Sirius (one of his ‘favorite books of 2019’)
'A fastidious, elegant writer, he is a calligrapher of consciousness, a fine penman aware that he is writing not on parchment but in water… Merwin is the unmistakable heir of the Emerson and Whitman who so ecstatically hymned flux' - M. Wynn Thomas, The Guardian [on Selected Poems]
'…W. S. Merwin is perhaps the most haunting voice in contemporary poetry. Evanescent yet dauntless, peering into darkness, his poems have a paradoxical strength that can make other writers seem lightweight by comparison.' – Ned Denny, Daily Mail, Poetry Books of the Year
‘In his best book in a decade – and one of the best outright – Merwin points his oracular, unpunctuated poems toward his own past, admitting, ‘I have only what I remember’, and offering what may be his most personal, generous and empathic collection. Somehow, he manages to dissolve the boundaries between one time and another, seeming to look forward to the past or remember what has yet to happen… The poems show the marks of having weathered “the complete course / of life”, but also feel fresh and awake with a simplicity that can only be called wisdom: “the morning is too / beautiful to be anything else”. Gorgeous poems about enduring love melt time as well, looking toward a moment when we will be no older than we ever were’ – Publishers Weekly [on The Shadow of Sirius]
‘In The Shadow of Sirius, Merwin has given to 21st-century poetry what Matisse gave to 20th-century painting with his late-in-life paper cutouts: the irreducible essence of his art. It is a gift that unites past and present, a gift of genius and love, a gift that consecrates a poet’s life’ – The Wichita Eagle
‘The intentions of Merwin’s poetry are as broad as the biosphere yet as intimate as a whisper. He conveys in the sweet simplicity of grounded language a sense of the self where it belongs, floating between heaven, earth, and the underground’ – Peter Davison, Atlantic Monthly
‘He has attained – more and more with every collection – a wonderfully streamlined diction that unerringly separates and recombines like quicksilver scattered upon a shifting plane, but remains as faithful to the warms and cools of the human heart as that same mercury in the pan-pipe of a thermometer’ – James Merrill
W.S. Merwin talks about writing poetry and about meeting Ezra Pound when he was 18 and still at college and Pound was in the psychiatric ward at St Elizabeth's Hospital. He then reads 'Late Spring', a poem included in his Bloodaxe Selected Poems. This film is from the Academy of American Poets DVD The Poet's View: Intimate Profiles of Five Major American Poets, which features Kay Ryan, John Ashbery, Louise Glück, Anthony Hecht and W.S. Merwin: