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The River Sound: Poems by W. S. Merwin

The River Sound: Poems

by W. S. Merwin

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W.S. Merwin probably writes his personal diary in verse. The poems in this volume have a steady flow as if he were sitting in a patio poking at overgrown weeds with the tip of his shoe while musing without particular intensity on time and the way sounds are with us and then gone. Most of us, though, eventually tire of a steady murmur, and start listening for brighter sounds. There are few of these in this opus. The long poem "Testimony" soon palls with its earnestness. It has none of the roguishness of Villon's poem, which he references. I wish someone had been brave enough to put a blue pencil to it before it was published, for there are some poignant lines and pretty turns here and there.
  Nycticebus | Sep 7, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375704353, Paperback)

W.S. Merwin is indisputably one of our finest living poets. The two books preceding The River Sound (The Vixen and The Folding Cliffs) are nearly flawless. Their thematic coherence and sustained, lyrical intensity are the culmination of Merwin's signature style: long, loping lines--frequently enjambed--with minimal if any punctuation. In these fluid poems, he has found the ideal form for his preoccupation with "the open unrepeatable / present."

The River Sound, while thematically building upon this preoccupation, does not quite reach the same stylistic virtuosity, though the book's shorter poems do exhibit Merwin's facility for transparently evoking the sensory details of a particular place, person, or memory. This rendering is especially poignant because many of its poems, such as "227 Waverly Place," are about Merwin at 70 taking leave, perhaps for the final time, of places and people that have become a part of him:

When I have left I imagine they will
repair the window onto the fire escape
that looks north up the avenue clear
to Columbus Circle long I have known
the lights of that valley at every hour
through that unwashed pane and have watched with no
conclusion its river flowing toward me
straight from the featureless distance coming
closer darkening swelling growing distinct
speeding up as it passed below me toward
the tunnel all that time through all that time...
Merwin falters, however, when he attempts to merge his open style within a traditional rhyming, iambic structure. In "Testimony," a 60-page autobiographical poem, the rhyme scheme and the sentiment can occasionally border on cliché: "The year I will be seventy / who never could believe my age / still foolish it appears to me / as I have been at every stage..." Yet within the context of Merwin's entire body of work, it's well worth reading. --Emily Warn

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:37 -0400)

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