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  • The River Sound
  • Written by W.S. Merwin
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780375704352
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The River Sound


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poetry (11)
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A strikingly beautiful book of poems from one of our finest poets, exhibiting his artistry in the style he has made his own. To his lyrics Merwin adds three long narrative poems: "Lament for the Makers" is his tribute to fellow poets who are gone and who had his admiration, from Dylan Thomas to James Merrill; "Testimony" is a tour de force, an autobiographical poem in the manner of Francois Villon; "Suite in the Key of Forgetting" is a remarkable poem about memory and memories. All in all, a masterly work by a major poet.



There is a war in the distance
with the distance growing smaller
the field glasses lying at hand
are for keeping it far away

I thought I was getting better
about that returning childish
wish to be living somewhere else
that I knew was impossible
and now I find myself wishing
to be here to be alive here
it is impossible enough
to still be the wish of a child

in youth I hid a boat under
the bushes beside the water
knowing I would want it later
and come back and would find it there
someone else took it and left me
instead the sound of the water
with its whisper of vertigo

terror reassurance an old
old sadness it would seem we knew
enough always about parting
but we have to go on learning
as long as there is anything


This is the bridge where at dusk they hear voices
far out in the meres and marshes or they say they hear voices

the bridge shakes and no one else is crossing at this hour
somewhere along here is where they hear voices

this is the only bridge though it keeps changing
from which some always say they hear voices

the sounds pronounce an older utterance out of the shadows
sometimes stifled sometimes carried from clear voices

what can be recognized in the archaic syllables
frightens many and tells others not to fear voices

travellers crossing the bridge have forgotten where they were going
in a passage between the remote and the near voices

there is a tale by now of a bridge a long time before this one
already old before the speech of our day and the mere voices

when the Goths were leaving their last kingdom in Scythia
they could feel the bridge shaking under their voices

the bank and the first spans are soon lost to sight
there seemed no end to the horses carts people and all their voices

in the mists at dusk the whole bridge sank under them
into the meres and marshes leaving nothing but their voices

they are still speaking the language of their last kingdom
that no one remembers who now hears their voices

whatever translates from those rags of sound
persuades some who hear them that they are familiar voices

grandparents never seen ancestors in their childhoods
now along the present bridge they sound like dear voices

some may have spoken in my own name in an earlier language
when last they drew breath in the kingdom of their voices
W.S. Merwin

About W.S. Merwin

W.S. Merwin - The River Sound

Photo © Matthew Schwart

W. S. Merwin was born in New York City in 1927 and grew up in Union City, New Jersey, and in Scranton, Pennsylvania. From 1949 to 1951 he worked as a tutor in France, Portugal, and Majorca. He has since lived in many parts of the world, most recently on Maui in the Hawaiian Islands.

He has been the recipient of many awards and prizes, including the Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets (of which he is now a Chancellor), the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, and the Bollingen Prize in Poetry; most recently he has received the Governor's Award for Literature of the state of Hawaii, the Tanning Prize for mastery in the art of poetry, a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

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