(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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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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