The Ends of the Earth

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, W. S. Merwin, published his last book of prose, The Lost Upland, in 1992. In The Ends of the Earth he offers biographical essays about such people as George Kirstein, publisher of The Nation, Sydney Parkinson, the artist aboard Captain James Cook's vessel, The Endeavor, and French explorer Jean- Francois La Perouse, who failed to return from his journey to circumnavigate the globe. He also writes compellingly about how the monarch butterfly winters in the mountains of Michoacan, Mexico as well as about the isolated monasteries on Greece's Mount Athos.

Striking for their physical descriptions of people and places, Merwin's essays are also notable for the vignettes they present of people associated with his main characters. Kirstein's father, for example, was a close friend of Lincoln Filene, the Boston department store mogul. Kirstein himself knew poet-critic R. P. Blackmur well, employing Blackmur to help him when he bought The Nation.

Merwin writes with perspicacity about these people. He also presents a rare insight into Louis XVI, the French monarch who was beheaded, focusing on Louis's enduring support of and interest in La Perouse's abortive attempt to circumnavigate the globe.

In these carefully reasoned essays, many of which emphasize matters of deep concern to environmentalists, Merwin, although he is writing prose, achieves an appealing poetic use of language. He tends to write long, at times convoluted, sentences but never to the point of obscuring the razor-sharp impact of what he has set out to communicate.