(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Lament for the Makers” was a poem published as an epitaph to W. S. Merwin’s anthology Lament for the Makers and was later republished in The River Sound (1999). The poem exhibits a loose iambic tetrameter with many meter variations in couplet form. The second couplet in each stanza always rhymes with “me,” the last word in each stanza. This directly correlates with William Dunbar’s sixteenth century poem “Lament for the Makers.” Dunbar’s poem similarly consists of stanzas with two rhyming couplets and every fourth line ending in “me.” Dunbar’s last line is “Timor Mortis Conturbat me,” which roughly translates as “the fear of death troubles me.” This allusion and structure create Merwin’s poem, which laments the death of various twentieth century poets. Through the accumulation of these deaths, Merwin inevitably questions his own life and accomplishments.

Merwin incorporates the death of each author with a reference to his life or writing. For instance, “on the rimless wheel in turn/ Eliot spun.” T. S. Eliot died on January 4, 1965, and Eliot instructed that his ashes be buried at the church of St. Michael, East Coker, England. On his plaque are the lines from Eliot’s “East Coker” in Four Quartets (1943): “In my beginning is my end [ . . . ] In my end is my beginning.” The important image employed throughout the Four Quartets is the symbol of a wheel, as in the wheel of...

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Lament for the Makers Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bloom, Harold, ed. W. S. Merwin. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004.

Byers, Thomas G. What I Cannot Say: Self, Word, and World in Whitman, Stevens, and Merwin. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989.

Christhilf, Mark. W. S. Merwin, the Mythmaker. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1986.

Davis, Cheri. W. S. Merwin. Boston: Twayne, 1981.

Hix, H. L. Understanding W. S. Merwin. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.

Hoeppner, Edward Haworth. Echoes and Moving Fields: Structure and Subjectivity in the Poetry of W. S. Merwin and John Ashbery. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1994.

Mark, Irwin, ed. Many Mountains Moving: A Tribute to W. S. Merwin. Boulder, Colo.: Many Mountains Moving, 2002.

Merwin, W. S. Unframed Originals. New York: Atheneum, 1982.

Nelson, Cary, and Ed Folsom, eds. W. S. Merwin: Essays on the Poetry. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.

Scigaj, Leonard M. Sustainable Poetry: Four American Ecopoets. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1999.

Shaw, Robert B., ed. American Poetry Since 1960: Some Critical Perspectives. Chester Springs, Pa.: Dufour, 1974.