Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

W.S. Merwin’s Unframed Originals is made up of six sections written at intervals over a span of several years. As Merwin points out in a brief prefatory note, “Each was intended to stand by itself, but each was part of the whole enterprise.” Each was “a product of a single impulse,” the attempt to recapture the past. Born in 1927 in New York City, William Stanley Merwin spent his early years in Union City, New Jersey, and Scranton, Pennsylvania, where his father, a Presbyterian minister, held pastorates. As a young adult, Merwin lived in France, Portugal, and London, supporting himself as a tutor and translator. Merwin’s autobiography concerns itself largely with the people and places surrounding his earliest years.

Merwin is known primarily as a lyric poet and translator of poets. His mature poetry includes The Carrier of Ladders (1970), for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. His translations range from the ancient The Poem of the Cid (1959), to the more modern Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1969), by Pablo Neruda. His prose reflects a poet’s distrust of generalizations and analysis. His past, as he recollects it, is not historical but poetic, evoked in a metaphorical but plain style, minutely and sensuously detailed. Neither the individual sections themselves nor the narratives within the individual sections are chronologically ordered. Their order, rather, is one of mood and memory, or, as Merwin puts it, “a presentation of things that originally happened in sequence but now occur in the same moment in...

(The entire section is 648 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Bloom, Harold. “The New Transcendentalism: The Visionary Strain in Merwin, Ashbery, and Ammons,” in Chicago Review. XXIV, no. 3 (1972), pp. 25-43.

Cotter, James Finn. “Poets Then and Now,” in America. CXLVIII (January 29, 1983), pp. 75-76.

Folsom, Ed, and Cary Nelson. “W.S. Merwin,” in American Poetry Observed: Poets on Their Work, 1984. Edited by Joe David Bellamy.

Fuller, Edmund. “Autobiographies of a Satirist in Line and a Gifted Poet,” in The Wall Street Journal. CCI (January 3, 1983), p. 22.

Hirsch, Edward. “The Art of Poetry XXXVIII: W.S. Merwin,” in The Paris Review. XXIX (Spring, 1987), pp. 56-81.

Howard, Richard. Alone with America: Essays in the Art of Poetry in the United States Since 1950, 1980 (revised edition).

Irwin, Mark. Review in World Literature Today. II (Spring, 1983), p. 294.

Oates, Joyce Carol. “Family Portrait,” in The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVII (August 1, 1982), pp. 7, 29.

Vendler, Helen. “W.S. Merwin,” in Part of Nature, Part of Us, 1980.