Monday, August 8, 2011

What Lines Sound Like

 The Kenyon Review is running an interview with U.S. Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin that takes up two important features of my upcoming course, “The Difference,” a poet’s concern with sound, and the “lineliness” of verse.

Got two minutes?  Then listen to the first 1:31 of this show. You will hear a master poet reading a contemporary poem with a strong emphasis on the line as its fundamental unit!

Notice how Merwin reads each line as a line, and lets the consistent enjambment he’s noted for do its work silently.  (Under his reading of the lines, we hear syntactical units that do not correspond to the line, like “you will be all right whether or not you know” and “long ago my mother said I am going…”)

Here’s the text:

Rain Light

All day the stars watch from long ago
my mother said I am going now
when you are alone you will be all right
whether or not you know you will know
look at the old house in the dawn rain
all the flowers are forms of water
the sun reminds them through a white cloud
touches the patchwork spread on the hill
the washed colors of the afterlife
that lived there long before you were born
see how they wake without a question
even though the whole world is burning.

W.S. Merwin, from The Shadow of Sirius

The interview as a whole is worth hearing.  Merwin expresses his concern that today’s writers have forgotten—or haven’t realized—that poems begin in sound. 

“The Difference” will resoundingly enhance each writer's sense of what that means.

1 comment:

  1. Merwin is among my favorite poets. He has a marvelous reading style and voice. In the case of this beautiful poem, he captures the cadence of speech without having to punctuate it, demonstrating an intuitive understanding of where and how to pause, of how to make every line mean something to the whole. Twelve lines that could be flat in another's voice resound in Merwin's own.