From Publishers Weekly
Merwin's 24th volume of poems is his first since last year's massive new-and-collected Migration: it may be the much-lauded poet's clearest and most unified in many years, and it is almost certainly his most moving. Following Kenneth Koch's New Addresses, its 101 poems address a person, place, object or abstraction ("To the Shadow," "To the Stone Paddock by the Far Barn"). Almost all seek, and many achieve, a deliberate pathos over the passage of time: "I will wait and you can follow alone," concludes Merwin (who won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize) in "To Lili's Walk," "and between us the night has come and gone." Often stark, at times nearly imageless, the poems recall particular moments in Merwin's own life, comment on the act of writing or introduce gentle humor. ("To the Consolations of Philosophy" begins "Thank you but/ not just at the moment.") Some of the best, such as "To My Grandfathers," remember dead family members and friends. Short-lined free verse pieces "To the Soul" and "To Forgetting" may become new anthology signatures or provoke new attention to this elder statesman of American verse. The book's greatest weakness may be its length; so many lyric poems with similar structures and near-identical tones make it harder for the best few to stand out. (Sept.)
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Each of the 100-plus poems in Merwin's meditative, playful, and lithely beautiful new collection, which closely follows the remarkable retrospective volume Migrations (2005), begins with the word To and directly addresses some aspect of nature or the self, a feeling or an idea, a person, place, or moment. Merwin keeps his language simple but his perceptions complex. Classical in their lines of inquiry and restraint yet vital in their attunement to the here and now, these personal odes and musings on daily existence and the cycles of life are, by turns, bemused and exalted. As Merwin moves from contemplating his reflection in the mirror to musing over memory, grief, duty, absence, purity, and the splendor of the earth, the subtle, wavelike motion generated by each poem infuses the collection with buoyancy and light.
Merwin is as refined and entrancing a prose stylist as he is a poet. Earlier works chronicle his experiences in France and Hawaii. In Summer Doorways, he circles further back in time to tell amusing and piquant stories of his years at Princeton during World War II, and of summers in the country that stoked his sense of wonder and mystery. Chance acquaintances led to Merwin's becoming a tutor to privileged boys in beautiful settings, including Genoa and Portugal. His splendidly detailed and sensuous descriptions (what a memory he has), especially of postwar Europe, are redolent in mood and precious historically. And he takes great pleasure in turning intriguing, exquisitely crafted portraits and anecdotes into lustrous recollections that capture lost time and trace the making of a poet. Donna Seaman
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