The Shadow of Sirius

by W. S. Merwin

Hardcover, 2008





Port Townsend: Copper Canyon Press, 2008.


This volume presents a collection of poems reflecting the author's life. Mysteries of light, darkness, temporality, and eternity weave throughout his poetry. His memories are focused and profound, of Pennsylvania miners and neighborhood streetcars, a conversation with a boyhood teacher or parent, the distinct qualities of autumnal light and gentle rain, well-cultivated loves, and "our long evenings and astonishment." From the universe's contradictions, the author once again calls upon the unexpected to illuminate existence.

Media reviews

Merwin does away with punctuation, letting line breaks and sense determine syntax and pace. The results suggest whispers, laments, accounts of long-ago memories, even voices from an underworld.
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Even if we miss the harsher Merwin, we must grant the present poet the "worn words" of his late verse, where both the bitterness toward his unsympathetic father and the bitterness toward the political powers have subsided, and where his more fundamentally elegiac voice takes dominance.

User reviews

LibraryThing member rmckeown
I showed the interview of Merwin with Bill Moyers to my creative writing class and became inspired to buy a copy of this collection, which Merwin frequently read from during the interview.

The poems are exactly the kind I love to read – simple, straightforward with some surprising and highly
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pleasing insights. I will buy some more of his verse as I come across them. Considering the fact that he has published almost 30 volumes, I can’t bust my budget to complete the collection as I would like to do.

As is my custom when reading a volume of poetry, I mark ones I especially love for quoting here. I marked about 20 in Shadow, so I had a hard time figuring which I would quote. “Cold Spring Morning” kept popping up, so here it is:

“At times it has seemed that when
I first came here it was an old self
I recognized in the silent walls
and the river far below
but the self has no age
as I knew even then and had known
for longer than I could remember
as the sky has no sky
except itself this white morning in May
with fog hiding the barns
that are empty now and hiding the mossed
limbs of gnarled walnut trees and the green
pastures unfurled along the slope
I know where they are and the birds
that are hidden in their own calls
in the cold morning
I was not born here I come and go” (82).

I felt myself in this poem as I recalled that day back in 1993 when I moved to Texas – alone, knowing not a soul at the age of 45. If I can write one poem this wonderful, this powerful, and so full of truth – not only for me, but for some stranger who happens to read it, then I will be allowed to consider myself a poet.

You need to read Merwin. Over and over, and again and again. 5 stars

--Jim, 4/16/11
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LibraryThing member JimElkins
I have been reading Merwin since "The Lice," "The Carrier of Ladders," and "The First Four Books of Poems" -- since about 1974. No review can do justice to half a lifetime of reading, despite what reviewers continuously imply.

But there is increasingly a chill in Merwin, a kind of persistent, deep
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in the bones kind of cold. "The Lice" also had sharp edges, scraps and shards of images, and the poems were as if read by an uneven voice. They fluctuated from astonishingly lucent to weirdly opaque.

His newer work is like a diffuse deep luminous fog. It is lovely, but textureless. Its surface is crossed by small brittle waves, worrying themselves over damp sand (that's partly from one of his images): he is reliably slightly troubled, and unconsolably deeply wounded, but also, sadly for his readers, at peace. After a while, reading the new Merwin, I feel cold, as if I have been walking too long on a foggy seashore. So I might, finally, after over thirty years, stop buying his books.
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LibraryThing member wealhtheowwylfing
I love Merwin's poetry, which has a little sarcastic edge to it sometimes but always a sense of wonder and hope tinged with loss. Not much regret, though, and I like that. He writes with a sense of acceptance that I wish I had myself. I like his deceptively clear and simple style, as well. He says
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a lot in a very little while.

My favorite in this book was "Youth,"

Through all of youth I was looking for you
without knowing what I was looking for

or what to call you I think I did not
even know I was looking how would I

have known you when I saw you as I did
time after time when you appeared to me

as you did naked offering yourself
entirely at that moment and you let

me breathe you touch you taste you knowing
no more than I did and only when I

began to think of losing you did I
recognize you when you were already

part memory part distance remaining
mine in the ways that I learn to miss you

from what we cannot hold the stars are made
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LibraryThing member goodinthestacks
I heard an interview with Mr. Merwin on NPR and happened to find his book on the shelves of my library later that same day. I am not a great fan of poetry, but I found myself particularly liking several of the poems in this book.
LibraryThing member snash
Poems without punctuation giving them a nebulous quality to fit with haunting poems about timelessness and the unfathomable unknowing unknown inhabited by the the lone lost questioner.
Six poems I particularly liked were "Raiment", "Inheritance", "Youth", "Recognition", "My Hand", and
"One of the
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LibraryThing member dasam
Haunting poems of life and loss and the struggle to accept that what we are and what we love is evanescent and fragile. In an era of poetry that tries so hard to be ironic as it puts off the reader, Merwin writes to include the reader with simple but not easy verse.


Pulitzer Prize (Winner — Poetry — 2009)



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