W. S. Merwin’s new book is so dreary, I had to recite Henry V’s battle speeches just to get through it. Merwin gave up the burdens of punctuation so long ago it’s hard to remember he began as a perfectly conventional poet of the Fifties, one of those sons of Auden who lost their way. But who would have thought that the later master of tense, crippling surrealism, who could make a phrase about stars or bones or stones (those Dutch still lifes of the late Sixties) shimmer with numinous life, who could tease a nerve out of the dull flesh of prose, would end as a village explainer, as Stein said of Pound? The Vixen1 doesn’t want to be read; it wants to prose its readers to death:

and now I have come to ask you to say what

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