The Moving Target Summary (W. S. Merwin)

W. S. Merwin


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Moving Target catalogs Merwin’s ventures into the dark void of possibility available to humans. As before, Merwin finds little hope. “Noah’s Raven,” for example, explains why that bird did not return to the ark with the message that the deluge had passed, that God would once again establish his covenant with humans. On leaving, it realized it had nothing more in common with humans; their kinds would henceforth be alienated. By refusing to bring back empty promises, the raven signifies that it sees little hope. Similarly, “Dead Hand” illustrates in two lines that this most human of organs continues to clutch even after death; its only value to anyone resides in the metal and mineral of its rings.

“Lemuel’s Blessing” develops from an allusion to Christopher Smart, an eighteenth century poet who suffered from religious mania and was considered insane. Merwin suggests that only madmen can see accurately in a world that has chosen madness as a way of life. Smart prayed that Lemuel “bless with the wolf,” the traditional and mythical enemy of humans—arguing, that is, that releasing wolves on humans would paradoxically purge them of their own beastliness. He goes on to call the wolf a “dog without a master,” hinting that humans are destroying themselves by failing to practice the mastery for which they were created. Finally, he notes that the Lord will care for the wolves of the desert, implying that humans who have chosen...

(The entire section is 409 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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