The silent city

MerwinThis Bill Moyers Journal interview with the poet W.S. Merwin, who recently won a second Pulitzer for his collection The Shadow of Sirius, is one of the best I’ve heard in a long time. The transcript will give you an idea, but you need to watch the video or download the podcast, because Merwin reads a number of his poems and it’s just something you ought to hear. Listening to a poet is the best kind of introduction.  

The talk covers a lot of ground, but this memory from Merwin’s youth in Union City really caught me:    

BILL MOYERS: You did grow up right across the river in Metro New York, New Jersey, looking out on the skyline of New York.

W.S. MERWIN: Which was silent.

BILL MOYERS: Silent?

W.S. MERWIN: Yeah. New York was silent. That was extraordinary. And that still, to me, is haunting. You know, to be able to think of that skyline that I saw as a child. And you could hear sounds from the river. There was a river traffic, which is gone, most of which is gone. The ferries back and forth, all the time. And ferrying of whole trains went across on ferries, you know, on barges. And I would spend as much time as I could in the back of the church looking down on Hoboken Harbor and on the river and on the city over there. And the city was absolutely silent. Then, of course, you took the ferry over there all the noise of New York was there. And I found that very exciting.

I’ve taken the ferry from Hoboken many times, and that wall of silence across the Hudson, and how it gives way to New York’s immense clamor, really is remarkable. Leave it to a poet to articulate that.

The Shadow of Sirius is a wonder, by the way. Merwin has scores of books out in the world, but if you’re looking for an introduction to his work, The Shadow of Sirius will do nicely.

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