Picks and Pans Review: Travels

UPDATED 02/01/1993 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 02/01/1993 at 01:00 AM EST

W.S. Merwin

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for The Carrier of Ladders and author of more than 30 other books of poetry, fiction and translation, Merwin, now 65 and living on Maui, has produced his first poetry collection in five years.

Merwin invites the reader ("We are so few," he acknowledges in an introductory note) on a number of travels—geographic, linguistic, historical, psychological and purely poetic—all relating to the wonder of the natural world and our wandering place in it. Having long ago dispensed with periods, commas and other grammatical constraints, Merwin sends richly descriptive language tumbling down the page like a waterfall. In both his shorter, lyrical poems and in his longer, more narrative ones, a constancy of meter and tone keeps the reader on course and enhances the sense of perpetual journey.

In "A Summer Night," for instance, Merwin writes about returning to a place, rich with rose bushes, gnarled walnut trees and the hulks of black barns, that he has known "so long...that it seems to me/ To be mine it has been gone for so long/ That I think I have carried it with me/ Without knowing it was there in the daytime/ Through talk and in the light of eyes and travelling/ In windows it has been there the whole way/ On the other side like a face known from/ Another time from before and afterwards/ Constantly rising and about to appear."

What Merwin seems to be saying. in one way or another in all of these poems, is that travel is about both leaving and returning and, like memory, is more circular than linear, as much about the journey as the destination, for every destination is also a point of departure. (Knopf, $20)

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