Academic Journal of Modern Philology vol. 5 (2016)
Rezekne Higher Education Institution, Latvia
Intimate but Not Private: Deep Image and the Telluric Sublime in W. S. Merwin’s Poems
If we define a poet’s encounter with the sublime as an inherently religious experience, then many of W. S. Merwin’s poems can be considered as deeply religious. At its best, his poetry has an air of uncanny familiarity, a “familiar strangeness,” as one critic has put it. In this sense Merwin’s lyrics offer a modified approach to the concept of the sublime. Blending archetypal imagery with defamiliarized diction, the American poet tries to reconnect his readers with a long-gone religious paradigm – that of earth-oriented, pagan spirituality of Western Europe, filtered, though, through Merwin’s essentially Buddhist sensibility. Offering a close-reading analysis of selected poems (with an emphasis on Merwin’s use of what Robert Bly calls the deep image), this paper attempts to decode some of their more complex metaphorical meanings in the light of the poet’s spiritual affinities. These, though theologically unspecified, seem grounded in his both “pagan” and poignant awareness of nature’s self-contained status vis-á-vis the human condition. Thus, both Nature’s ultimate ontological status and Merwin’s private creed remain a riddle.
Keywords: Merwin, sublime, spirituality, poetry.