W. S. Merwin: “After a Storm”

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Plays: 415

Merwin opens with “After a Storm”—a poem that deals both with the evening’s ostensible theme (autobiographical poetry) and McClatchy’s earlier reference “to the program which some of us saw last night and that was an understatement of what we all expect.” He was referring to “The Day After”—an ABC-television film about the consequences of nuclear war—that aired on Sunday, November 20, 1983 and was viewed by more than 100 million Americans.

“Not the least sickening thing about that movie was the discussion that followed it,” said McClatchy. “It was the sound of [the politicians’] rhetoric that sickened; the sound, even, of language itself after such images. No poet is more sensitive to the ambivalence of language itself, at once our most delicate and our most imprecise instrument, than W. S. Merwin. The changes in his style over the years are a record of his wariness and of his devotion. A record, too, of the ferocious moral integrity that is the hallmark of Merwin’s work.”