W.S. Merwin Tribute



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    Ngàn năm trăng hỏi tuổi ?

    Quoc Tru Nguyen

    Thư gửi Su Tung-po

    Cả ngàn năm sau
    Tớ hỏi hoài hỏi hoài
    Cũng vẫn những câu hỏi
    Ngài đã từng ưu tư, trăn trở
    Chẳng có gì thay đổi
    Ngoại trừ cái âm thanh, giọng điệu…
    Cái cái tiếng vang, hay, tiếng dội
    Cứ sâu lắng mãi ra
    Và điều mà Ngài viết, về "bàn chân ai rất nhẹ, tựa hồn những năm xưa"
    Hay, cái chuyện tới lui của tuổi đời, của thời đại….
    Trước khi Ngài trở nên già khòm
    Tớ chẳng biết gì hơn Ngài, về cái điều Ngài hỏi
    Khi, đêm đen, ngồi trên một thung lũng
    Nghĩ tới Ngài, ngồi trên sông
    Và một mảnh trăng
    Trong giấc mơ của những con chim nước
    Và tớ nghe ra sự im lặng sau những câu hỏi của Ngài
    Chúng bao nhiêu tuổi rồi nhỉ, vào 1 đêm
    Như đêm nay?
    A Letter to Su Tung-p'o
    Almost a thousand years later
    I am asking the same questions
    you did the ones you kept finding
    yourself returning to as though
    nothing had changed except the tone
    of their echo growing deeper
    and what you knew of the coming
    of age before you had grown old
    I do not know any more now
    than you did then about what you
    were asking as I sit at night
    above the hushed valley thinking
    of you on your river that one
    bright sheet of moonlight in the dream
    of the waterbirds and I hear
    the silence after your questions
    how old are the questions tonight
    W.S. Merwin
    The Essential W.S. Merwin
    Comments
    • Khanh Huynh Tít sốc như thế , thân hữu mới chịu đọc bác ạ.
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  • Quoc Tru Nguyen Yes, I Think So. Tks

When You Go Away
 
When you go away the wind clicks around to the north
The painters work all day but at sundown the paint falls
Showing the black walls
The clock goes back to striking the same hour
That has no place in the years


 
And at night wrapped in the bed of ashes
In one breath I wake
It is the time when the beards of the dead get their growth
I remember that I am falling
That I am the reason
And that my words are the garment of what I shall never be
Like the tucked sleeve of a one-armed boy




Khi Gấu Đi Xa


Gió quần quần về phía Bắc
Mấy tay thợ sơn tường hì hục suốt ngày
Và khi đêm xuống
Nước sơn trôi tuột
Phô ra những bức tường đen thui
Chuông đồng hồ gõ hoài, gõ hoài,
Cũng 1 thời gian
Chẳng có nơi chốn nào
Trong những năm năm tháng tháng


Và đêm tới
Cuộn mình trên giường của những tro than, điêu tàn
Trong 1 hơi thở, tớ thức giấc
Đó là thời gian
Râu người chết cứ thế mọc dài mãi ra
Tớ nhớ là trong khi tớ té
Tớ là lý do
Của những từ ngữ
Chúng là quần áo của điều mà tớ chẳng bao giờ sẽ là
Như cánh tay áo
Của 1 thằng bé cụt tay


Rain at Night

This is what I have heard

at last the wind in December
lashing the old trees with rain
unseen rain racing along the tiles
under the moon
wind rising and falling
wind with many clouds
trees in the night wind

after an age of leaves and feathers
someone dead
thought of this mountain as money
and cut the trees
that were here in the wind
in the rain at night
it is hard to say it
but they cut the sacred 'ohias then
the sacred koas then
the sandalwood and the halas
holding aloft their green fires
and somebody dead turned cattle loose
among the stumps until killing time

but the trees have risen one more time
and the night wind makes them sound
like the sea that is yet unknown
the black clouds race over the moon
the rain is falling on the last place

Mưa Đêm

Đó là điều tớ nghe,

sau cùng, gió Tháng Chạp
quất túi bụi lên mấy thân già
với mưa
một thứ mưa mù loà - đếch nhìn thấy, đúng hơn, unseen –
chạy dài theo mái ngói
dưới trăng
gió trồi lên, trụt xuống
gió với rất nhiều mây
cây trong gió đêm

sau một thế hệ lá và lông
một người nào đó ngỏm
tưởng ngọn núi này là tiền bạc
và cắt cây
những cây ở đây
trong gió
trong mưa đêm
thật khó nói điều đó
nhưng họ cắt “ohias” thiêng
rồi “koa” thiêng
rồi dép cây, guốc gỗ
rồi halas
cầm lơ lửng những ngọn lửa xanh
và một người nào đó chết, để bầy gia súc chạy rông
giữa những gốc cây cho tới thời giết người

nhưng cây, lại một lần nữa sống lại
và gió đêm làm chúng kêu thành tiếng
như biển
tuy chưa được biết tới
mây đen chạy ùa lên mặt trăng
mưa rơi trên nơi chốn sau cùng.

Place

On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree

what for
not for the fruit

the tree that bears the fruit
is not the one that was planted

I want the tree that stands
in the earth for the first time

with the sun already
going down

and the water
touching its roots

in the earth full of the dead
and the clouds passing

one by one
over its leaves

Nơi chốn

Vào cái ngày cuối cùng của tên Gấu Cà Chớn
Nó bèn thèm trồng 1 cái cây

Không phải cho trái
Cây cho trái
Không phải cây được trồng

Thằng khốn muốn thứ cây
Đứng 1 phát, lần đầu tiên, ở trên mặt đất

Với 1 ông mặt trời, đã lặn

Và nước mò tới rễ
Bèn sờ soạng

Trên trái đất đầy người chết
Và mây bay qua

Từng cụm, từng cụm
Bên trên lá của nó

The Essential W.S. Merwin



Kỷ niệm ngày đi xa của tớ


Năm nào thì cũng rứa
Ta trải qua ngày tớ đi xa
Vậy mà cứ làm mặt lạ với nó!
Khi ánh lửa sau cùng giơ tay vẫy vẫy
Và im lặng thì tràn đầy
Kẻ lữ hành mỏi mệt
Y chang đốm sáng sau cùng, của 1 ngôi sao sắp tuyệt tích giang hồ
Nghĩa là, cạn ánh sáng - Cạn láng đời thì cũng “cẩm” như vậy -
Và tớ sẽ chẳng thấy mình
Áo quần lạ lẫm
Ngạc nhiên với đời
Và tình yêu của 1 phụ nữ
Và cái sự mặt dầy của lũ đực rựa
Và bữa nay, ngồi viết sau ba ngày mưa dầm
Nghe tiếng chim hồng tước hót
Và cái sự rơi rụng, ngưng
Và cúi đầu chẳng biết vì đâu, vì cái gì…

W. S. MERWIN
1927-

The following poem inspires us to reflect on what seldom crosses our minds. After all (literally after all), such an anniversary awaits every one of us.
Bài thơ sau đây gợi hứng cho chúng ta, về cái điều hiếm chạy qua đầu chúng ta.
Nói cho cùng, "kỷ niệm cái chết của tôi" đâu bỏ quên, bất cứ ai?

Czeslaw Milosz: The Book of Luminous Things

FOR THE ANNIVERSARY OF MY DEATH

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

POUR L'ANNIVERSAIRE DE MA MORT

Chaque année sans le savoir je passe la journée
Quand les derniers feux vont me faire signe
Et le silence s'établira
Voyageur infatigable
Comme le rayon d'une étoile sans lumière
Alors je ne ferai plus
Me trouver dans la vie comme dans un vêtement étrange
Surpris à la terre
Et l'amour d'une femme
Et l'impudeur des hommes
Comme écrit aujourd'hui après trois jours de pluie
Entendre le troglodyte chanter et la chute cesser
Et s'incliner sans savoir à quoi

Bài thơ này, tương tự bài văn tế Gấu Đực, của Gấu Cái. Thảo Trường, khi chưa đi xa, đọc, gật gù, được quá đi chứ:

Văn tế nhà văn Nguyễn Quốc Trụ

Em năn nỉ để em đi trước ,
Để được anh lo lắng chăm sóc một lần.
Lần đầu mà cũng là lần cuối.
Vậy mà anh vẫn từ chối.
Vậy mà anh vẫn muốn chiếm thượng phong,
Anh nằm xuống,
Mặc cho nhà quàn vẽ rắn vẽ rồng,
Má đỏ môi hồng
Cà vạt veston,
Giày tây bóng láng như đồng,
Những thứ mà trên đời anh chúa ghét
Quan tài thì phủ đầy hoa,
Hoa hồng hoa đỏ hoa xanh, và
Con cháu anh- Đứa khóc ông- đứa khóc cha!
Còn em, làm văn tế khóc chồng.
Ối ! Trụ ơí! Bốn mươi năm chung sống.
Hai mươi năm lưu lạc xứ người,
Em đi làm- anh ở nhà viết văn đọc sách.
Ra đường – em lái xe- anh lười seatbelt-
Nên ngồi băng sau làm ông chủ,
Còn hai mươi năm kia..
Hết mười năm anh ở trong tù,
Em nuôi mẹ nuôi con,
Mười năm đầu từ khi cưới nhau
Cô phù dâu theo anh về trong giấc chiêm bao !!
Em đi dạy học- anh làm công chức,
Sáng anh ngồi quán Cái Chùa.
Cà phê sữa croissant
Trưa lang thang đại lộ Hàm Nghi - Cầu Calmette
Tối thì Văn Cảnh- Đêm Mầu Hồng.
Không ai kèn cựa với người đã chết.
Mà em muốn nhắc để cám ơn anh.
Đã rèn luyện em trong cay đắng của đời.
Và đã thương yêu em như một Bà Trời.
“Em ơi anh không biết làm thơ tình,
Nên đành mượn hai câu thơ của Bùi Giáng để tặng em
Anh thương em như một Bà Trời
Còn em thương anh như một Ông Trời Bơ Vơ”
Ôi Trụ ơi,
Vô thọ tướng-vô nhân tướng-vô thọ giả tướng
Vô chúng sanh tướng. Vạn vật giai không
Cát bụi thì xin trở về nơi cát bụi.
Hiền thê biệt bút
Thảo Trần


The Final Prophecy of W. S. Merwin

March 17, 2019



The poems of Merwin’s mature career seemed to have been delivered unto him, then transcribed by lightning flash.
Photograph by Tom Sewell / NYT / Redux

Now we know the date. The anniversary of W. S. Merwin’s death was, all along, March 15th. He’d passed it ninety-one times and stopped on the ninety-second. But what did it matter, really, which of the three hundred and sixty-five notches on the roulette wheel would turn up as the winner? Here is “For the Anniversary of My Death,” among Merwin’s most famous poems:
Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

This little anticipatory poem has its way with time: it describes what Merwin imagines will have happened on March 15, 2019, but it is dedicated to, and reserved for, every March 15th thereafter. It’s a script for a commemorative ceremony, a eulogy banked years before its occasion. It also feels like a prank that Merwin played on us, the most chilling and ingenious trick that an American poet has played on his survivors since Walt Whitman challenged the rest of us to look for him, whenever we missed him, under our boot soles.
“For the Anniversary of My Death” is about the problem of being outlived. “Elegy,” Merwin’s great single-line poem—not the greatest short poem, but perhaps the shortest great poem, ever written—is about the converse problem, that of outliving. This is the poem in its entirety:
Who would I show it to
Poets write elegies, often, for other poets, but there is a paradox: the very figure whose sympathetic attention to their work allowed the work to flourish is now gone. An elegy can’t exist when its sponsor has become its subject. And yet the poem seems to answer, by a somewhat piqued rhetorical question, its subject’s request: Why haven’t you written my elegy?
Merwin was born in 1927, and grew up in Union City, New Jersey, and Scranton, Pennsylvania, where his father was a Presbyterian minister. The young Merwin composed hymns for his father’s church. A scholarship student at Princeton, he remembered working in the horse stables and apprenticing himself to R. P. Blackmur, the brilliant, gnomic critic, and to Blackmur’s friend, the poet John Berryman. His early poems were ominous, high-pitched, and starchy; when he broke with them, he broke for good. The poems of his mature career were often Delphic, haunted, and bleak. They seemed to have been delivered unto Merwin, who transcribed them by lightning flash: this effect of transcribed prophecy is achieved by their almost total lack of punctuation. This is how the jet stream must speak—or how a cleft in the bedrock might introduce itself. We have come very far from hardscrabble Pennsylvania or Merwin’s work-study job at Princeton. His several volumes of memoirs are extraordinarily warm, an interesting supplement to the stony verse. He lived, since the mid-seventies, on an abandoned pineapple plantation, in Hawaii, which he bought barren and turned, row upon row, into a lush forest of palm trees. Friends who have visited have come back changed.
Merwin published an excellent selected volume in 2017, which I reviewed in this magazine. I was finishing it up when I heard of the death of John Ashbery, who was born in the same year as Merwin. I remember thinking that Ashbery, in his bland, white high-rise in Chelsea, and Merwin, in his palm garden in Hawaii, were like the gates of the rising and the setting sun. American sentries: Ashbery faced east (his actual apartment faced slightly west; just go with it), and kept an eye on reality as it approached, always monitoring its fresh and new and bewildering presentations; Merwin looked west, and saw the moments as they bent toward obliteration, casting their long shadows backward. We’ll be in his shadow for some time yet.


 

 W. S. Merwin in The New Yorker

March 18, 2019


W. S. Merwin’s last poems in The New Yorker are committed, above all, to the question of what lasts, and how, in a world essentially characterized by impermanence.
Photograph by Tom Sewell / NYT / Redux

The former U.S. Poet Laureate W. S. Merwin, who was known for his antiwar and ecological activism, died on Friday in his home in Maui at the age of ninety-one. Between 1955 and 2014, Merwin published over two hundred works of poetry and prose in The New Yorker that speak to the breadth and singularity of his monumental career.
Although Merwin’s earliest contributions to the magazine, such as “Low Fields and Light,” are of a mode that he would later leave behind, they evince concerns that would drive his poetry for decades: communion with the natural world, and with the lives and labor that it sustains, but also that world’s erosion by time, modernity, and manufactured violence. He had already begun to grapple with the poet’s position, his role and responsibility as observer and scribe. The speaker of “The ‘Portland’ Going Out,” reflecting on his proximity to a boating accident, notes, “In no time at all . . . / All of disaster between us: a gulf / Beyond reckoning,” implicating himself in his distance from the event.
The early sixties saw Merwin begin to strip away punctuation and move toward a sparer, less straightforward, more opalescent style that hits its stride in such powerful, oracular poems as “The Wave,” “The Child,” and “The Asians Dying,” which would later compose “The Lice,” his 1967 collection written in response to the horrors of the Vietnam War. There is an arcane, fateful quality to this work; the author’s voice opens like a vessel for his entire era to echo through, even as it rings Biblical, apocryphal, as in “The Widow,” for example:
And you weep wishing you were numbers
You multiply you cannot be found
You grieve
Not that heaven does not exist but
That it exists without us

The poems of Merwin’s next book, “The Carrier of Ladders,” which would win him his first Pulitzer Prize, continued to experiment with breath and the line, fragments and run-ons. Engaging questions of memory and loss, as in “Edouard,” “The Old Room,” and “The Judgment of Paris,” they also further demonstrate his now-established poetics of conscience, of witness to indelible environmental and historical trauma. Poems like “The Free,” which ends, “and when we have gone they say we are with them forever,” negotiate the palpable presence of what has been effaced and destroyed and the failure—even hypocrisy—of any attempt to immortalize it.
The New Yorker also published a great deal of Merwin’s short prose—much of which troubles genre boundaries—starting with an uncanny, speculative 1969 piece titled “The Remembering Machines of Tomorrow,” which appears to anticipate the invention of smartphones. Merwin imagines “remembering machines” that “no longer retain mere symbols in an arbitrary system but something which can pass, at least, for whole experiences—intellectual, sensual, visionary, ” whose “development . . . will come to be regarded as an important next step in man’s evolutionary progress—something at once inevitable and worth anything it might cost. When the machines become small enough so that every person can have—then must have—his own, the day will be celebrated as the beginning of a new age of the Individual.” He continues:
The machines will retain, in flawless preservation (though the completeness of what they remember will occasion some dispute, for a time), not only what their owners experience but what their owners think they have experienced, and will sort out the one from the other. More and more, such distinctions will be left purely to the machines. And it will be noticed that the experience to be retained is itself becoming a dwindling fauna, clung to by sentimentalists, from afar, who still lay aside their machines for days at a time and secretly yearn for the imaginary liberties of the ages of forgetting.
Many of these works, such as “The Roofs” and “The Fountain,” read like parables or fairy tales, with some—such as “The Devil’s Pig,” “A Fable of the Buyers,” and “The Chart”—echoing the surreal, philosophical manner of Franz Kafka and Jorge Luis Borges. Merwin’s prose, whether closer to fiction or to memoir, is an oddly complementary contrast to his poetry and offers a trove of surprises, delights, and revelations. So, too, do his translations, which the magazine printed in the seventies, from the Russian, of Osip Mandelstam, and, from the Spanish, of Roberto Juarroz.
Well through the turn of the twenty-first century, Merwin continued to hone his poetic vision, which extended the tradition of American Transcendentalism. In 1994’s “Vixen”—which Matthea Harvey read on The New Yorker’s poetry podcast, in 2015—the delineations between poet, poem, and subject dissolve. “I have waked and slipped from the calendars / from the creeds of difference and the contradictions / that were my life and all the crumbing fabrications,” Merwin writes, imploring, “let my words find their own / places in the silence after the animals.” He won a second Pulitzer Prize for his 2008 collection, “The Shadow of Sirius,” which contains “The Nomad Flute,” “A Letter to Su T’ung Po,” and “A Single Autumn,” which James Richardson discussed on the poetry podcast, praising Merwin’s “need to live in a world where the simplest things had stories, where the stones in the garden were growing things for themselves.” “The Shadow of Sirius” also includes “Rain Light,” which portrays “the washed colors of the afterlife / that lived there long before you were born,” entreating us to “see how they wake without a question / even though the whole world is burning.” That final line provides the title of a documentary about Merwin and his cultivation of a palm-tree forest in Hawaii, which, along with his literary legacy, is protected by the Merwin Conservancy. In 2017, writing on “The Essential W. S. Merwin,” Dan Chiasson remarked that “his poems, like that forest, are a kind of time preserve. . . . Many of them will be around as long as the palms.”
Indeed, Merwin’s last poems in The New Yorker are committed, above all, to the question of what lasts, and how, in a world essentially characterized by impermanence. In “A Message to Po Chu-I,” the poet becomes the custodian of an ancient tradition but has no one to pass it along to. “I have been wanting to let you know / the goose is well he is here with me,” he writes, “but I have never known / where he would go after he leaves me.” In 2014’s “Living with the News,” whose title refers both to what “is not mentioned on the front pages / but somewhere far back near the real estate” and to “what the doctor comes to say,” the author asks, “Can I get used to it day after day,” confessing, “this is not the world that I remember.” Merwin’s final poem in the magazine, “The Blackboard,” relates a projection of his childhood, finding that “The question itself has not changed / but only the depths of memory / through which it rises.” Yet, in the end, he lets go, the stuff of the poem and the poet falling away, as if, at last, to rejoin the elements: “and where are they now the sins of omission / where is the cloud the schoolyard the dream / even now I am forgetting them.”






Henri Michaux
French
1899-1984
MY LIFE
You go off without me, my life,
You roll,
And me, I'm still waiting to take the first step.
You take the battle somewhere else,
Deserting me.
I've never followed you.
I can't really make out anything in your offers.
The little I want, you never bring it.
I miss it; that's why I lay claim to so much.
To so many things, to infinity almost…
Because of that little bit that’s missing, that you never bring.
1962
W.S. Merwin: Selected Translations
Đời của Gấu
Mi đi hoang, bỏ ta
Mi lăn vòng vòng
Còn ta, vưỡn đợi bước thứ nhất
Mi lâm trận ở đâu đó,
Bỏ chạy ta
Ta không bao giờ theo mi
Ta không làm sao xoay sở
Với những mời chào, dâng hiến của mi
Cái ta muốn, chỉ tí xíu, mi chẳng bao giờ đem tới
Ta nhớ nó; chính là vì thế mà ta cứ cằn nhằn hoài
Về đủ thứ, về thiên niên, vĩnh cửu….
Chính là cái cuộc bỏ lỡ đó, mi chẳng hề màng tới



When You Go Away: Remembering W. S. Merwin
By Kevin Young


W. S. Merwin’s work reversed itself, undoing modernism almost step by step.
Photograph by Jill Greenberg

When I think of W. S. Merwin, I think of oysters. Not his writing about them but his eating them. I saw him do so in 2013, when I brought him to Emory as part of a reading series I ran there. It was one of his last visits to the mainland from his adopted home of Hawaii.
He did not so much give a reading as participate in a conversation, onstage—on short risers, really—about his work and its transformations. I was awed by him, and I remember less the specifics of what he said than his demeanor, which was generous; he was somewhat frail but still hearty. His work was nearly the opposite: it is at once sturdy and rhythmic, steady in the best way, though it has a certain airiness about it, a clearing haze.
So, the oysters: after the event, a group of us took him to a lovely dinner in a back room of one of Atlanta’s terrific restaurants. When playing host, I often order for the table—at least the starters. Merwin ordered oysters, a dozen. When they came, he didn’t perform the false courtesy of offering one or making a show. It was clear that they were meant for him, and he sat and enjoyed them while others, around him, shared dishes (including oysters). It was the ordering, and sincere pleasure, of a man who knew what he liked and was purposeful in getting it. His poems could deal in ambiguities, but not his palate.
There was, in his work, many orders of pleasure, of course, and a rigor in its spokenness. His poems are also interested in certitude, or, better yet, finality. The experience of hearing him read “For the Anniversary of My Death,” as I had decades before, when he gave a reading at Stanford, stays with me. The poem remains a bravura performance, though not an ostentatious one; much like oysters, it is raw and briny and tender all at once—“and bowing not knowing to what.” There were other wonders that made their way into The New Yorker, where he published more than two hundred poems across seven decades. Like “Come Back,” from 1967: “You came back to us in a dream and we were not here / In a light dress laughing you ran down the slope / To the door / And knocked for a long time thinking it strange.” His work from that period feels almost shucked, for that’s what he’d done: thrown over and scraped clean the formal style that had won him the Yale Younger Poets Prize, in 1951. (Later he’d serve as a judge.) He was not alone among his generation—not even among his fellow Yale prize winners picked by W. H. Auden’s bold hand, like Adrienne Rich and James Wright—in turning from an earlier decorum to an openness, an immediacy, and, often, a politics that extended to form. Meter and punctuation were discarded, replaced by swift line breaks and urgent subjects, whether “The Herds” or “The Asians Dying.” Indeed, as in the work of other evolving poets, such as Amiri Baraka and June Jordan, form was exactly where politics took place, the line not so much a unit of breath as a way of breathlessly addressing a turbulent time.
Merwin’s book “The Lice,” from 1967, still seems absolutely brave in its willingness to invoke change as a necessary and human thing. This is a lesson we could stand to learn now; it might help us to make work of this urgent moment that endures. It is notable that some of his enduring work came from capturing and praising the seemingly ephemeral. Eventually, he would write about things that he came to consider eternal but that were somehow, now, in jeopardy: the whales, the rain forest, his beloved island home. He could find the forest in a leaf.
His “Looking for Mushrooms at Sunrise” enacts this attentive yet elusive praise:
Where they appear it seems I have been before
I recognize their haunts as though remembering
Another life

Where else am I walking even now
Looking for me

When Merwin came to Stanford, he was visiting Denise Levertov’s class, I recall, talking with us and looking over a few of our poems. You could add Levertov, whose teaching I admired, to the list of transformed and transformative artists of the sixties; her transformation, too, was simultaneously a change of form, which she wrote was “never more than a revelation of content.” Levertov had famously argued and ultimately broken with her longtime friend Robert Duncan about the uses of poetry in the midst of the Vietnam War. Her content and poetics had shifted, especially against the war, while Duncan expressed distaste for “empty and vain slogans,” claiming that “the poet’s role is not to oppose evil, but to imagine it.” They were, of course, both right. Merwin, starting in the late sixties, found a middle way that, for these two seemingly irreconcilable camps, would have otherwise seemed impossible, by crafting a lyric by turns outraged and interior. He essentially sang his way out.
He was generous as a reader, too, and I still remember, decades later, a poem of mine that he was kind to. Called “Casting,” the poem was about fishing with my father, and it wouldn’t appear in a book until fifteen years later, after myfather had died. He said kind things about the poem, and I think he rightly warned, about its short lines, that one must be wary or at least aware of the choppy rhythm that could result. It was good advice that I wouldn’t quite follow. His work already taught me that, too: one must write as one hears and not be afraid to capture an inner voice on the page, to own that song of self. This extended to hearing other voices, as in Merwin’s tremendous translations, which remind us of the connectedness of a self across language and time.
Merwin translated from the start—twenty years’ worth of his “Selected Translations” first appeared in 1969. In that book’s introduction, he wrote of his limitations, which, as he well knew, weren’t really anything of the sort. “The only languages outside English in which I have any proficiency at all are the romance languages, particularly French and Spanish. But I long ago forgot most of what Latin I ever learned, and more recently most of what Portuguese I ever knew; my reading Italian (which was all I had) was never anything but laborious and uncertain.” The translations were never laborious nor uncertain, perhaps because he understood that a translation had to become a new poem in English. And yet they never felt like Robert Lowell’s “Imitations,” in which the loose translations become just versions of Lowell’s poems.
When I set about writing the poems for what became my third book, “Jelly Roll: a blues,” which took from the sounds and spirit of that African and American art form, I was also reading a number of Spanish-language poets, including Federico García Lorca, whose work Merwin translated. Lorca’s love and use of flamenco before being killed by the fascists was inspiring—and no less than Ralph Ellison saw the connections between flamenco and blues. Merwin, in his translations, seemed to know the power of such connections. His take on Pablo Neruda’s “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair” remains a totem for me. I realize how much of its power was hearing Neruda through Merwin and vice versa: he had a way of rendering work that also tenderized it, rather than producing the strange shoe leather or bruised fruit that some translations become from overhandling. “It is the hour of departure, the hard cold hour / which the night fastens to all the timetables.” That’s Neruda via Merwin. Romantic while keen-eyed.
Was Merwin the last of our romantics? His work reversed itself, undoing modernism almost step by step: from the formal, slightly surreal verse of mid-century, he time-travelled back to the unpunctuated experiments that marked high modernism; and then to a view of nature as noble and almost human, as in the work of the British romantics; and even to French epics late in life, inspired by his farmhouse in the South of France, which he owned for more than seventy years. His was, of course, the most postmodern of acts: to undo the mask and find not only a face but a form crafted to feel natural and expansive, even as it was conscious of artifice. As I recall, during that class at Stanford, someone asked him about images, and he passionately recited the story of the Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa and the death of his daughter, captured in a famous haiku. “The world is a world of dew. And yet, and yet.”
One of Merwin’s last poems in the magazine, “Living with the News,” feels especially benedictory:
Can I get used to it day after day
a little at a time while the tide keeps
coming in faster the waves get bigger
building on each other breaking records
this is not the world that I remember
then comes the day when I open the box
that I remember packing with such care
and there is the face that I had known well
in little pieces staring up at me
it is not mentioned on the front pages
but somewhere far back near the real estate
among the things that happen every day
to someone who now happens to be me
and what can I do and who can tell me
then there is what the doctor comes to say
endless patience will never be enough
the only hope is to be the daylight

The decades reveal more than a poetic autobiography but also nothing less: the evolution of a poet in the pages of a magazine in a way that we are not likely to see again. May he still sing among the trees.




Khong Lo
Vietnamese
medieval, Ly dynasty
died 1119
The Ideal Retreat
I will choose a place where the snakes feel safe.
All day I will love that remote country.
At times I will climb the peak of its lonely mountain
to stay and whistle until the sky grows cold.
1967, translated with
Nguyen Ngoc Bich
Trong bài tưởng niệm NTN trên Hậu Vệ, Nguyễn Đạt viết:
Nhà thơ Nguyễn Đăng Thường thấy thơ Nhan trong Thánh Ca “có tí hương vị Rimbaud, một Rimbaud không vô thần”, thì tôi cho rằng, trong bản chất thi sĩ của hai người, Nhan và Rimbaud, ít nhiều có chỗ giống nhau. Tôi biết rõ, Nhan không đọc một dòng thơ nào của Rimbaud, không một dòng thơ dòng văn nào của bất cứ nhà thơ nhà văn nhà triết học nào của phương Tây. Và tôi lại thấy Nhan, trong Thánh Ca, có nhiều hương vị Phạm Công Thiện. Và tôi hiểu, cả hai, Nhan và Phạm Công Thiện: ngôn ngữ của thi sĩ, sản sinh từ cùng một ly nước, một ly nước có chất cà phê hay men rượu mà cả hai đã uống.
Source

Theo Gấu, thơ NTN chẳng có tí Rimbaud, mà cũng chẳng có tí PCT, nhưng rõ ràng là có chất Thiền, một thứ Thiền của Việt Nam.
Trước 1975, tình cờ GNV có đọc một bài thơ của anh, viết về một nhà sư Việt Nam, sư Không Lộ, hình như vậy, trên Thời Tập, và như còn nhớ được, chất Thiền mạnh lắm.

Theo như trí nhớ tồi tệ của GCC, bài thơ của Nguyễn Tôn Nhan, về Không Lộ, có cái ý “thét lên 1 tiếng lạnh hư không”, chắc là bài thơ trên, được W.S. Merwin và Nguyễn Ngọc Bích chuyển qua tiếng Mẽo
Nơi thần sầu để rút dù
Tớ sẽ chọn một nơi mà rắn [độc hay không độc] cảm thấy an toàn
Cả ngày tớ sẽ mê cái “lost domain” xa xôi đó
Tớ sẽ leo lên cái đỉnh núi trơ cu lơ của nó
Đếch thèm tìm bản chúc thư [của MT], hay xác con gấu, hay con cáo gì gì đó [của Hemingway]
Mà để hét lên 1 tiếng lạnh hư không!
Osip Mandelstam 
LENINGRAD
 
Russian
1891-1938 
I've come back to my city. These are my own old tears,
my own little veins, the swollen glands of my childhood.
So you're back. Open wide. Swallow
the fish oil from the river lamps of Leningrad.
Open your eyes. Do you know this December day,
the egg yolk with the deadly tar beaten into it?
Petersburg! I don't want to die yet!
You know my telephone numbers.
Petersburg! I've still got the addresses:
I can look up dead voices.
I live on back stairs, and the bell,
torn-out nerves and all, jangles in my temples.
And I wait till morning for guests that I love,
and rattle the door in its chains.
Leningrad. December 1930
1972, translated with
Clarence Brown
W.S. Merwin
 
I returned to my city, familiar to tears,
to my childhood's tonsils and
varicose veins.
You have returned here-then swallow
the Leningrad street-lamps' cod-liver oil.
Recognize now the day of December fog
when ominous street-tar is mixed with the yolk of egg.
Petersburg, I do not want to die yet
I have your telephone numbers in my head.
Petersburg, I still have addresses at which
I will find the voice of the dead.
I live on a black stair, and into my temple
strikes the doorbell, torn out with flesh.
And all night long I await the dear guests,
and I jangle my fetters, the chains on the door.
[Osip Mandelstam, Selected Poems, translated by David McDuff. Cambridge: River Press, 1973, p.111] (1)
Tôi trở lại thành phố của tôi, thân quen với những dòng lệ,
với cơn đau thịt thừa trong cổ họng thuở ấu thơ,
và chứng chướng tĩnh mạch

Bạn đã trở về đây - vậy thì hãy nuốt
dầu đèn phố Leningrad
Hãy nhận ra bây giờ ngày tháng Chạp mù sương...

Petersburg, tôi chưa muốn chết
Tôi có số điện thoại của bạn ở trong đầu Petersburg,
tôi vẫn có những địa chỉ, tại đó, tôi sẽ tìm ra tiếng nói của những người đã chết...


*
Nhà thơ nhà nước Mẽo, đã từng đợp Pulitzer, nhưng còn là 1 dịch giả thần sầu. Gấu thèm cuốn này lâu rồi, bữa nay đành tậu về. Ông còn một cuốn dịch thơ haiku của Buson, cũng mới ra lò, 2013, Gấu cũng thèm lắm!
*
W. S. MERWIN
1927-
The following poem inspires us to reflect on what seldom crosses our minds. After all (literally after all), such an anniversary awaits every one of us.
 
Bài thơ sau đây gợi hứng cho chúng ta, về cái điều hiếm chạy qua đầu chúng ta.
Nói cho cùng, "kỷ niệm cái chết của tôi" đâu bỏ quên, bất cứ ai?

Czeslaw Milosz
Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what




Guillaume Apollinaire
French
1880-1918 
 
Under the Mirabeau Bridge the Seine
Flows and our love
Must I be reminded again
How joy came always after pain
Night comes the hour is rung
The days go I remain
Hands within hands we stand face to face
While underneath
The bridge of our arms passes
The loose wave of our gazing which is endless
Night comes the hour is rung
The days go I remain
Love slips away like this water flowing
Love slips away
How slow life is in its going
And hope is so violent a thing
Night comes the hour is rung
The days go I remain
The days pass the weeks pass and are gone
Neither time that is gone
Nor love ever returns again
Under the Mirabeau Bridge Flows the Seine
Night comes the hour is rung
The days go I remain
1956



*

*

ROBERT FROST
NEITHER OUT FAR NOR IN DEEP
 
The people along the sand
All turn and look one way
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.
As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull.
The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be-
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.
They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?


Không xa mà cũng chẳng sâu
Ném mẩu thuốc cuối cùng xuống dòng sông
Mà lòng mình phơi trên kè đá
TTT
Đám người dọc theo cát
Tất cả quay và nhìn một phía.
Lưng xoay vô đất
Mắt nhìn biển cả ngày.
Con tàu dâng thân lên
Chừng nào nó đi qua
Thân tầu, lóng lánh như mặt gương,
Phản chiếu một hải âu đứng sững.
Đất có thể tang thương như thế nào
Một khi sự thực thì như thế nào đó –
Nước vẫn tạt vô bờ
Và mọi người nhìn ra biển
Họ không thể nhìn xa
Họ không thể nhìn sâu
Nhưng liệu có 1 cái kè đá nào
Cho bất cứ 1 cái nhìn mà họ giữ?
Ui chao đọc bài thơ này, thì bèn nghĩ liền đến bài thơ của Gấu!

*
Buổi chiều đứng trên bãi Wasaga
Nhìn hồ Georgian
Cứ nghĩ thềm bên kia là quê nhà.
Sóng đẩy biển lên cao, khi xuống kéo theo mặt trời
Không gian bỗng đỏ rực rồi đêm tối trùm lên tất cả
Cát ở đây được con người chở từ đâu tới
Còn ta bị quê hương ruồng bỏ nên phải đứng ở chốn này
Số phận còn thua hạt cát.
Hàng cây trong công viên bên đường nhớ rừng
Cùng thi nhau vươn cao như muốn trút hết nỗi buồn lên trời
Chỉ còn ta cô đơn lẫn vào đêm
Như con hải âu già
Giấu chút tình sầu
Vào lời thì thầm của biển...

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/09/18/the-ascetic-insight-of-w-s-merwin


The Ascetic Insight of W. S. Merwin
After escaping the anxiety of influence, the poet discovered a brilliant, elemental poetry.
By Dan Chiasson

Merwin, shown circa 1972, has deepened poetry by extracting its essence.

Photograph by Douglas Kent Hall / ZUMA Press

The American poet W. S. Merwin, who turns ninety this year, has for decades written his scanty, unpunctuated poems from a palm forest on the remote north shore of Maui. Merwin bought the property in 1977, and began restoring the ancient trees lost when loggers and the commercial pineapple and sugar farmers started to move in more than a century ago. “After an age of leaves and feathers / someone dead / thought of this mountain as money,” Merwin writes in “Rain at Night.” He has reclaimed the mountain, and much else, for poetry. His poems, written in an environment refashioned by his hard restorative work, are adjuncts of that work, and operate according to their own stringent verbal restrictions. Wallace Stevens called his collected poems “The Planet on the Table”; Merwin’s work is more like a terrarium on the table, its elements balanced and tended in an eerie simulacrum of reality.
“The Essential W. S. Merwin” (Copper Canyon) condenses the poet’s nearly seventy-year career into a single volume. Merwin’s poems, like his Maui conservancy, make their mark on the world by recording its effacement; they reveal what a person finds when he imagines himself as having been superseded. Here is perhaps his most famous poem, “For the Anniversary of My Death”:
Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what
The poem’s power is clinched by its title and opening line; almost anything could follow that bracing conceit. It must have been a struggle, once Merwin had come to this startling idea, to decide when and how to deploy it. He was in his thirties when the poem was written. It faintly mocks its own stodginess—it is a kind of pleasure, after all, to imagine your own death, provided you’re young and healthy. A pleasure and an opportunity: the poem strongly implies the seduction plot that it doesn’t mention outright. The candles wave, the garments fall away, and this man’s “shamelessness” meets, in the aura of his personal doomsday, “the love of one woman.” Something deep in me resists this sexy self-extinction rhetoric. Soft-core, low-fi, and Aquarian, Merwin’s asceticism has always had about it the prowess of a sophisticate.
From the beginning, he wanted to mesmerize. In the forties, under the spell of his Princeton teachers John Berryman and R. P. Blackmur, he perfected a learned, ominous, allegorical poem, mopping up for the high modernists. In “A Mask for Janus” (1952), his début collection, chosen by W. H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets, the thread count is high but the starch is unbearable. In one poem, “Dictum: For a Masque of Deluge,” Noah, post-flood, finds he has his work cut out for him:
At last the sigh of recession: the land
Wells from the water; the beasts depart; the man
Whose shocked speech must conjure a landscape
As of some country where the dead years keep
A circle of silence, a drying vista of ruin,
Musters himself, rises . . .
It helps to think of the “drying vista of ruin” as an image of war, but this animatronic Noah, who weirdly “musters himself” while the beasts “depart,” is a clunky vehicle for expressing majesty. When the batteries in Merwin’s early methods ran out, mercifully he never replaced them.
It took Merwin several volumes before arriving at a style barren and bleak enough to make his pronouncements on life’s barrenness and bleakness feel persuasive. “The Lice” (1967) was his breakthrough. It remains one of the indelible books about Vietnam: the images coming out of the war suggested, to Merwin, the utter defenselessness of a traditional culture against the fury of modernity. It seems to me that Merwin wanted these new poems to channel apocalyptic prophecy without suggesting that he was its source. Add punctuation to these lines from “The Hydra,” and Merwin sounds like his Noah action figure. Strip it back out, and we have the distinct power of the poet at his finest:
I was young and the dead were in other Ages
As the grass had its own language
Now I forget where the difference falls
One thing about the living sometimes a piece of us
Can stop dying for a moment
But you the dead
Once you go into those names you go on you never
Hesitate
You go on
The phrases are like driftwood scattered on the sand which nevertheless suggest the outline of a form; their dispersal on the page is the source of their power. Punctuation would suture the strewn bits together, like the prosthetic joints you find linking the real bones in a brontosaurus skeleton. The effect is especially strong in that last stanza: a period or a colon after “hesitate,” and the range of its power is drastically narrowed. Those final two lines work as contradictory imperatives, like the commands in the story of Mr. Fox: Be bold, but not too bold.
Merwin’s verse often gives the impression of language scavenged from the elements, its power reckoned only as its meanings assemble, phrase by phrase, against the white of the page. Simple astonishment, one of the rarest of all literary experiences, is the most potent outcome; in Merwin’s best poems, he seems brought up short by his own discoveries. It is another advantage of his style that it can end without ending, as it does in “James”:
News comes that a friend far away
is dying now
I look up and see small flowers appearing
in spring grass outside the window
and can’t remember their name
The beauty of this elegy is in its pair of mirrored participles, “dying” and “appearing”: the mind toggles between memory and perception, between the “far away” but emotionally pressing matter of the friend’s death and the close but suddenly blurry appearance of the flowers, which now have a new name, James. The flowers and the friend exist in a permanent reciprocity established by this little lyric. An instant later, perhaps, Merwin remembers the flowers’ actual name; the poem suspends us between recollection and forgetting, right in the spot where elegy is most poignant and effective.
Merwin’s poems seem made from a kit, a highly personalized but weirdly plain repertoire of details: rain, light, mountains, water, wind. Since his fundamental stance is passivity, Merwin’s language can’t feel as though it were summoned from too much effort of learning, or from casually gleaned perception or overheard conversation, which would concede the existence of actual other people. The “I” finds itself, instead, in the combination of those primeval elements: wind across the water, light on the mountain. This “I” has emotions, but they drift in from elsewhere; the vessel is empty until sadness, or grief, or expectation blows in and settles briefly inside it.
It is not hard to imagine how this kind of writing could go awry, and Merwin’s attempts to expand his range of subjects to the social or the overtly political often expose his limits. But a sly ars poetica, “Song of Man Chipping an Arrowhead,” makes his case:
Little children you will all go
but the one you are hiding
will fly
The “little children” here are mortals too young to exist woefully in time, but also shards of flint that “go” in service of the core function of the stone. As with any art of imposed constraint, we look for the moments when the constraints are defied. Once you carve the arrowhead, it can “fly” on its own; its nature as a stone has been transformed, just as the nature of these words, bought for nothing, is transformed. When Merwin’s poems don’t move along this axis of transformation, when they start too broad or loquacious, they lose their power.
Yet anybody who wants to learn about Merwin’s hardscrabble, very American childhood as the son of a violent minister, or his time as a scholarship student at Princeton, or his successful forays into the worlds of American and European peerage should read his wonderful prose memoirs. My favorite is “Summer Doorways,” which is mainly about his time in France, where he keeps a home. Merwin’s prose is lush, companionable, and funny, alert to the ironies of everyday life and utterly unlike his flinty poems. You surmise, reading his memoirs, that poetry is for him a quite distinct animal, specialized, like an arrowhead carved from stone, from every use but its intrinsic one. As he has held poetry to its essence, he has deepened it. And his poems in old age attain a special kind of power only available to an artist who works the same furrows over and over.
Merwin’s recent work often recalls his monitoring intelligence from its mission in the landscape to the wreck of his own aged body, itself now a part of the world of matter so resistant to human transformation. The fresh appraisal of his old face, in “To the Face in the Mirror,” draws on the tradition of mirror poems extending from Shakespeare to Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, and John Ashbery. The eye you see in the mirror is lit up by the sight of you; the mind, revelling in the transaction, records it, but in the process involves itself inside the exchange:
so how far
away are you
after all who seem to be
so near and eternally
out of reach
you with the white hair
now who still surprise me
day after day
staring back at me
out of nowhere
past present or future
you with no weight or name
no will of your own
and the sight of me
shining in your eye
how do you
know it is me
The poem reminds us, as the image in the mirror reminds Merwin, of how much has gone on inside the mind and how little trace its activity leaves on the material world. Merwin’s insistence on a poetry of imaginative utility, against the encroachments of decades of literary fads, has succeeded in giving his imagined worlds some of the tangible pleasures and horrors we associate with real ones. Like Stevens, whose old-age poems are perhaps the greatest ever written, Merwin can say he “recomposed” the constituents of his vision. But he also planted and tended a palm forest that is now permanently protected and open to the public. His poems, like that forest, are a kind of time preserve. Until you can make it to Maui, the poems will have to do. Many of them will be around as long as the palms. ♦
This article appears in the print edition of the September 18, 2017, issue, with the headline “The Ascetic.”



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