A literary event a new volume of poems by one of the masters of modern poetry The Rain in the Trees is W. S. Merwin's first book since the publication five years ago of his Opening the Hand.
Almost no other poet of our time has been able to voice in so subtle a fashion such a profound series of comments on the passing of history over the contemporary scene. To do this, he seems to have reinvented the poem so that the experience of reading Merwin is unlike the reading of any other poetry. In such famous books as The Lice, The Moving Target and (most recently) Opening the Hand, he has produced a body of work of great profundity and power made from the simplest and most beautiful poetic speech.
The poems in this new book are concerned with intimacy and wholeness, and are made of the relations with people, with places, past and present, and with history and how the world endures it.
Merwin can now rightfully be called a master, and this book shows in every way why this is the case.
The sounds of wind and rain and the images of trees and pastures form melancholy leitmotifs in the latest volume of lyrics by this master prosodist. All slight and understated, these poems depend on nuance and the emotional color of Merwin's mellifluous language for their effect. They ask one to imagine a world not patently given here, but only suggested by sudden, fleeting illuminations: they comprise ``a kind of whispered sighing/ not far/ like a night wind in pines or like the sea in the dark/ the echo of everything that has ever/ been spoken/ still spinning its one syllable/ between the earth and silence.'' The love poems in particular are so elusive and wispy they seem hardly to stand alone, but to need each other as a group, as well as a good deal of imaginative participation on the part of the reader. Similarly, his theme of the loss of the archaic earthly Eden through the march of progress is defined by only the vaguest mythical outline. Yet, however muted and minor this collection, one is entranced as ever by the unparalleled discipline of Merwin's silver tongue. (April)