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The River Sound: Poems Hardcover – January 26, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

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


...he's performing what James Merrill knew was the most important task of all, taking care of the "need to make some kind of house / out of the life lived out of the love spent." -- The New York Times Book Review, Melanie Rehak

227 Waverly Place
Another River
Before A Departure In Spring
The Causeway
Ceremony After An Amputation
The Chinese Mountain Fox
A Claim
Clear Water
Echoing Light
Field Note
The Gardens Of Versailles
Harm's Way
Jeanne Duval
Lament For The Makers
Late Glimpse
Left Hand
A Night Fragrance
Night Turn
The Notes
The Old Year
Returns After Dark
Seed Time
Sheep Passing
Shore Birds
Sixth Floor Walk-up
The Stranger; After A Guarani Legend Recorded By Ernesto Morales
The String
Suite In The Key Of Forgetting
That Music
This Time
Travelling West At Night
Wanting To See
Waves In August
What Is A Garden
Whoever You Are
The Wren
-- Table of Poems from Poem Finder®

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (January 26, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375404864
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375404863
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,022,030 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

W.S. Merwin is the 17th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry of the United States. He is the author of over fifty books of poetry, prose, and translations. He has earned every major literary prize, most recently the National Book Award for 'Migration: New and Selected Poems' and the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for 'The Shadow of Sirius.' He lives in Hawaii where he raises endangered palm trees.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Judy Lightfoot on July 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
.... William Merwin opens "The River Sound" with songs of praise for the natural world in that familiar voice: his fluid, sonorous blend of elegy and ecstasy, sometimes tinged with bitterness about the earth's degradation at human hands. Like his earlier poems, these rejoice in beginnings--dawns, the freshly wakened spirit, "April with the first light sifting/ through the young leaves," the Hudson River before British explorers arrived. Then Merwin turns his attention to history and aging. As he contemplates the past that shaped him, the people and events he has known begin to resemble "the ancient shaping of water/ to which the light of an hour comes back as to a secret." It seems that the poet of mornings has made a new, personal peace with history and change.
The book is a dazzling collection of poems, wise and playful. "Lament for the Makers" is a series of affectionate, quirky eulogies for poets who influenced Merwin and who died during his lifetime, and a confession of his tendency to see himself (partly because of his early rise to literary fame) as "the youngest on the block." This self-image lasted, he wryly admits, long after "the notes in some anthology/ listed persons born after me." The glorious heart of the book is the moving 60-page "Testimony," a leisurely, often funny family history about reaching an age when "the open unrepeatable/ present in which [we] wake and live" becomes "a still life still alive": at last we "know/ what to do with it." The poet ends "Testimony" by bequeathing treasures (a walk shared, a river heard together, a whole Manhattan city block) to each of his life's companions.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dustin Joseph Anderson on December 2, 1999
Format: Hardcover
W. S. Merwin has had a long time to develop his unique style of writing. And it's not the average lyricism that draws one to him as a poet; it's the haunting flow of the human voice that lies behind not only the structure of each poem but the meter as well. You won't find any punctuation in this book. Merwin lends us no helpful guide to reading. Unless you're tuned in to the flow of person-speak, it's going to be hard to comes to grips with what he's trying to accomplish. Besides his abilities at form, Merwin also gives us his long autobiographical poem "Testimony." "Lament for the Makers" is a medium length poem describing his poetical influences throughout his life. And since "A Mask for Janus" Merwin has been delighting us with his individualized sense of the poetic. He has not failed us with "The River Sound."
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer LS on December 31, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
W. S. Merwin just goes on making these beautiful poems that sing of the journey of self into Self, past into present, love into the sublime. He speaks with an individual voice that calls forth our collective voice. These poems are archetypal and personal...the best you can hope to find.
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