With The Drunk in the Furnace, Merwin intensified and expanded his earlier position that human beings had become increasingly subject to divorce from their environment and from their integrating spiritual centers. The book is enclosed by two defining figures, a Greek warrior-hero and a street person, who reflect for Merwin the typical human situation. The first is the title character in “Odysseus,” the epic wandering hero of the Homeric poems, about whom Alfred, Lord Tennyson had written two poems in the high Victorian mode projecting Odysseus’s role as the model male hero, the man whose will admits no obstacles to his quest.
Merwin’s Odysseus character is internally and externally a wanderer. This represents a dilemma that cannot seem to be resolved regardless of what choice the hero makes. Merwin exemplifies this conflict in his poem in the way the hero often cannot remember who caused his wandering and where his destination lies. Ultimately, the hero must come to terms with his internal conflict before he can externally find his home.
“One Eye” considers the probable consequences of the proverb “In the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king.” Commonly, this saying is taken to summarize folk wisdom, that one can capitalize on one’s advantages by choosing one’s objective audience carefully. Things do not work out this way in Merwin’s world. Although One-Eye at first finds immediate acceptance, his...
(The entire section is 437 words.)