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Book Review: 'Garden Time,' W.S. Merwin

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Poet W.S. Merwin is nearly 90. His eyesight is failing, and he can't see well enough to write. He dictated many of the poems for his new collection "Garden Time" to his wife, and our poetry reviewer Tess Taylor says the result is spectacular.

TESS TAYLOR, BYLINE: Even writing one good book of poems is tricky, let alone sustaining a career that lasts over six decades, all of which is to say I'd be delighted with "Garden Time" anyway. But having such a fine book of poetry come to us now from such a voice as Merwin's is a rare and particular gift.

Gardens or time are hardly new to lyric poetry. In fact, they might be its most familiar ingredients. Merwin puts these classics to fresh use. Suspending a morning, holding up its facets, Merwin asks how time inhabits us and we inhabit time. The poems give the effect of watching a great beam of light move over a stained glass window. They are often written as unpunctuated sentences that seem still glinting, just lifted out of the stream.

I'm especially drawn to Merwin's gentle discourse with his own mortality, as in the poem called "Not Early Or Late," where he asks, (reading) is it I that have come to this age, or is it the age that has come to me? Which one has brought along all these silent images on their shadowy river?

I also admire the poem called "The Morning," where Merwin addresses the day itself, asking, (reading) would I love it this way if I were somewhere else or if I were younger for the first time or if these very birds were not singing? Merwin, as if speaking to his own end, continues on. (Reading) Red torment of body or gray void of grief, would I love it this way if I knew that I would remember anything that is here now, anything, anything?

MCEVERS: The poetry collection is "Garden Time" by W.S. Merwin. Tess Taylor had our review. Her most recent book is "Work And Days." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.