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The Shadow of Sirius

4.16  ·  Rating Details ·  1,042 Ratings  ·  112 Reviews
Winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

Featured on NPR's "Fresh Air" and "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on PBS.

Honored as one of the "Best Books of the Year" from Publishers Weekly.

"In his personal anonymity, his strict individuated manner, his defense of the earth, and his heartache at time's passing, Merwin has become instantly recognizable on the page; he has made
Hardcover, 120 pages
Published September 1st 2008 by Copper Canyon Press
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The Complete Poems by Emily DickinsonLeaves of Grass by Walt WhitmanShakespeare's Sonnets by William ShakespeareThe Waste Land and Other Poems by T.S. EliotAriel by Sylvia Plath
Best Poetry Books
487th out of 1,720 books — 1,888 voters
The Collected Poems by Wallace StevensThe Waking by Theodore Roethke77 Dream Songs by John BerrymanThe Wild Iris by Louise GlückThe Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath
Pulitzer Winners: Poetry
94th out of 100 books — 36 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,099)
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Sep 01, 2012 s.penkevich rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Your bookshelf
Recommended to s.penkevich by: Scott Spicer
Stories come to us like new senses

W.S. Merwin’s 2009 Pulitzer Prize winning collection of poetry, The Shadow of Sirius, is an enrapturing look at the memories which have shaped our lives and send us forward into eternity. Poet Laureate of the United States from 2010-2011, and recipient of numerous awards, including two Pulitzer’s, one for this collection and a previous award for The Carrier of Ladders in 1971,
Poet Laureate of the United States from 2010, W.S. Merwin has proven himself time an
Dec 04, 2011 Wealhtheow rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I love Merwin's poetry, which has a little sarcastic edge to it sometimes but always a sense of wonder and hope tinged with loss. Not much regret, though, and I like that. He writes with a sense of acceptance that I wish I had myself. I like his deceptively clear and simple style, as well. He says a lot in a very little while.

My favorite in this book was "Youth,"

Through all of youth I was looking for you
without knowing what I was looking for

or what to call you I think I did not
even know I was lo
M Wiegers
Aug 25, 2008 M Wiegers rated it it was amazing
Amazing, existentialist book. If it were possible, this book should be printed on translucent pages. In the end, the words remain and rise into being, floating in the world. May be his best in many years. Gorgeous, sad, full of love--I could go on with hyperbole--this book makes me happy to be alive and in the presence of such a writer.
May 28, 2012 William1 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: us, poetry, 21-ce, signed
There's a wonderful lack of obscurity here combined with an emotional directness that is rare in poetry, rare even in Merwin's poetry. I found the book powerful and recommend it highly.
May 31, 2011 Bruce rated it it was amazing
Merwin’s verse is almost entirely unpunctuated. This has the effect, inter alia, of making ambiguous whether a word of phrase applies to what precedes or to what follows it, creating delicious ambiguity and multiple meanings. Here is an example: “…the tall gray horses all slender mares/ moving lightly as clouds before me/ close to me curious none of them/ can remember me I tell myself/ all of them must have been born since I/ was here last…” Does the “curious” mean that the mares are curious, or ...more
Jim Elkins
Jul 07, 2016 Jim Elkins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american
A Cold Late Style

I have been reading Merwin since "The Lice," "The Carrier of Ladders," and "The First Four Books of Poems" -- since about 1974. No review can do justice to half a lifetime of reading, despite what reviewers continuously imply.

But there is increasingly a chill in Merwin, a kind of persistent, deep in the bones kind of cold. "The Lice" had sharp edges, scraps and shards of images, and the poems were as if read by an uneven voice. They fluctuated from astonishingly lucent to weirdl
Apr 20, 2010 S. rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, read-in-2010
The Shadow of Sirius

I really love W.S. Merwin. He takes the most basic materials and finds their power, hammering them until they’re . . . until they’re what . . . something eternal. There’s nothing fancy about his word choices, no overly weird layouts on the page. He does forgo punctuation, but it somehow adds to his simplicity, as if he doesn’t want to disturb the train of thought, and that draws you into thinking along with him.

There’s no unnatural posing going on. Merwin relies entirely on
Patrick Gibson
Apr 21, 2009 Patrick Gibson rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: to everyone
Recommended to Patrick by: the god of poetry
Shelves: poetry
Oh my .... thank you world. He is a magnificent poet. (He just won the Pulitzer.) Not sure? Read this .... (from a previous collection)

"Naturally it is night.
Under the overturned lute with its
One string I am going my way
Which has a strange sound.

This way the dust, that way the dust.
I listen to both sides
But I keep right on.
I remember the leaves sitting in judgment
And then winter.

I remember the rain with its bundle of roads.
The rain taking all its roads.

Young as I am, old as I am,

I forget
Jul 04, 2016 metaphor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, w-s-merwin
The old grieving autumn goes on calling to its summer
the valley is calling to other valleys beyond the ridge
each star is roaring alone into darkness
there is not a sound in the whole night
and here we are
with our names for the days
the vast days that do not listen to us
Nov 29, 2009 Maria rated it it was amazing
I have read other books by W.S. Merwin -- his poetry and also his translations -- but was unfamiliar with this latest collection of poems entitled "The Shadow of Sirius" until I was given it as a birthday present. Like a lot of Merwin's later poetry, this collection of poems is about age and mortality. As this collection suggests, however, the shadow of Sirius is the holding metaphor for the poems. Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky and its name from the Greek refers to the scorching ...more
Robert Beveridge
W. S. Merwin, The Shadow of Sirius (Copper Canyon Press, 2008)

There are some poets who come relatively close to the household-name threshold, even in an America where poetry is about as dead as the influence of the Kennedy clan. W. S. Merwin is one of them. He's won the Pulitzer Prize twice (1971 and 2009, the latter for this book), the Academy of American Poets' Tanning Prize (1994), the National Book Award (2005), and the Bobbitt Poetry Prize from the Library of Congress (2005, for a different
May 28, 2009 martha rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, 2009
I've been on a huge Merwin kick lately, and wondering why I overlooked him for so long. This was a great choice for which book of his to read, since it just won the Pulitzer in poetry. (I'm blaming that for the fact that there's an actual waiting list at the library for it; and the general nerdiness of Boston.) I really enjoyed paying attention to how it was organized, the different sections, and then how in the last one all the poems that mentioned months or seasons were in chronological order. ...more
Jun 01, 2011 Bill rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I'm not sure why I don't read more poetry. Perhaps it's because I have this idea that reading poetry requires a more intense level of concentration than reading prose. I also tend to think that most poems benefit from being heard as opposed to being read, so I like to read poetry aloud to myself.

I discovered W.S. Merwin via the recent PBS documentary about the Buddha. I was very impressed with his insights and later watched a video of him being interviewed by Bill Moyers. He read some of his poe
Susan Katz
Aug 29, 2009 Susan Katz rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, poetry
This is a gorgeous book. "I have with me," Merwin says, "all that I do not know/I have lost none of it." But he also has with him all that he does know, and it shines everywhere in these poems. He admits his own preference, in his eighties of turning first to "late poems" because those are the ones "that are made of words/that have come the whole way." There's a lifetime in this book, a luminous panorama - and always with the awareness of how short a distance the whole way really is. When you're ...more
I feel I've really missed something completely, or perhaps it's the fact that I either didn't understand the poems, or I simply have a bad taste in poetry. Perhaps it's a combination of all of these factors.

To put it shortly, I didn't see what was so magnificent or wonderful about his work, as others have written before. He's already the third, I believe, poet who has won several awards and upon reading the work it went over my head. Yes there were some good lines here and there, but overall it
Catherine Bateson
Aug 17, 2012 Catherine Bateson rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
This one of my poetry benchmarks and individual poems are touchstones and prayers. It is a beautiful book - the poems are luminous, lyrical:

You that sang to me once sing to me now
let me hear your long lifted note
survive with me
the star is fading
(from 'The Nomad Flute')

There's grief in some of the memories. But the impression I carry away with me whenever I read this books is the joy in crafting these poems, the great compassionate heart that has been poured into the work and the tenderness of it
Jun 27, 2012 Pierre rated it really liked it
Sitting on my shelf, there is a fair variety of poetry; the sensuousness of Baudelaire, the vitality of Whitman, the always inventive wordplay of T.S. Eliot, the Shakespeariness of Shakespeare and so on and I love every last word of it. But sometimes, it's nice to sit down on the way to work and digest poetry like Merwin's. The economy of style and the weight he gives every beautiful word is a joy to read. This is my first reading of Merwin and I was constantly impressed with the sly humour, the ...more
Oct 10, 2012 Brian rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was my second volume of Merwin's work. Ever since viewing one of those PBS short programs on poets, and listening to a critic who was in love with Merwin's poetry, I've been trying to find that connection. It's a Pulitzer winner, yet I'm still finding myself less than fully engaged. Still, there were a couple that did work for me, like "Day without a name":
"... another light that does not/appear to be moving/ fills the horizon/ there the word/ waited for/ like a wild creature/ not glimpsed
Dec 19, 2014 Mari rated it it was ok
I wanted to love it, but I spent the entire volume feeling disconnected and unengaged. Though I loved his poem "Youth", no other poem made any sort of impression upon me (even upon a second read), and no lines gave me pause.

I believe I was a bit put off by the impersonal tone with which he addresses such personal memories; he refers to death as though it's an individual to be name-dropped, as though he writes from a detached journalistic perspective about the loss of, among others, his parents.
Bradley Harrison
May 12, 2010 Bradley Harrison rated it it was amazing
"All day the stars watch from long ago / my mother said I am going now / when you are alone you will be all right / whether or not you know you will know / look at the old house in the dawn rain / all the flowers are forms of water..."

an excerpt from, "Rain Light"

One of my all-time favorite poets, his newest and my personal favorite.
Aug 03, 2012 Steve rated it it was amazing
W.S. whispers into your ear memories of a life you never lived, with sights your eyes have never seen as if you are the only one who keeps him company within his soul. It's intimate, humbling, sincere and fragilizing to the self. Reading this is reading the lines of a man, who, contemplates the days and loves that were once so plenty and now so few...
J.S. Graustein
Jun 16, 2011 J.S. Graustein rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
The voice in this poetry collection is phenomenal. Merwin has an amazingly trained poetic eye and uses it to its full in this book. This is a must read for anyone working to develop as a poet. Favorite lines: "small flocks of migrant birds / catch like strands of wool in trees" from "White Note."
Apr 04, 2010 Greg rated it liked it
Tends towards the dull to average. Surprising what the Pulitzer folks are selecting, perhaps a shortage of something, anything, words on a page and bound in book form...
Paisley Green
Feb 25, 2016 Paisley Green rated it it was amazing
This book was one of those ones that hit me at exactly the right time and situation--you could say its kairos was particularly strong. These poems beautifully cover loss, memory, grief, nature, and humans' relationship to the cosmos in a tender, insightful way. If you're inclined to use food metaphors to describe poems, then you could say that Shadow of Sirius sticks to your ribs. If you like paranormal metaphors, you could say it haunts you after you experience it. Regardless of the metaphors ...more
Mary Rose
Jan 06, 2016 Mary Rose rated it liked it
I picked this up on my dad's recommendation and, don't get me wrong, I can definitely see that Merwin is a talented poet. There are a few moments of true brilliance in this book, "One of the Butterflies" for example, but also a lot of incomprehensible /stuff./ I hate saying "I don't get it" when talking about poetry because I do understand, it just doesn't appeal to me and my understanding of good poetry. But what's the point of reading poetry books if not to find a few ones that speak to you in ...more
Michael Julian Arnett
Oct 12, 2014 Michael Julian Arnett rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Merwin's flowing and unpuctuated style is fitting for his subject matter; images and impressions arrive and vanish, flowing into one another seamlessly. His “style”, though unmistakable, isn't a gimmick or a schtick, it is an expression of an organic form. A set form is not imposed upon the poem, but arises organically as is needed by the content. Merwin's style may even be considered and absence of style, a stark, denuded language without much ornamentation. I was surprised to see that several ...more
Chin Hwa
Nov 11, 2014 Chin Hwa rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Two favourites:


Stories come to us like new senses

a wave and an ash tree were sisters
they had been separated since they were children
but they went on believing in each other
though each was sure that the other must be lost
they cherished traits of themselves that they thought of
as family resemblances features they held in common
the sheen of the wave fluttered in remembrance
oft he undersides of the leaves of the ash tree
in summer air and the limbs of the ash tree
recalled the wave as the
Dec 26, 2010 Nicola rated it it was amazing
These poems feel so stripped down and smoothed--like stones that have allowed water to shape them for years. There's a definite darkness here--shadows, black dogs, deaths, unfinished things, unsure memories, a dreadful whether or not (think last line)--but much light, quite literally, as well. It's as though Merwin has applied the Buddhist practice of being here now to being there then, to the past, to the present's attempt at recalling that past.

Rereading this book (December, 2010), I'm struck
Jun 23, 2013 Pete rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Merwin at times at his best, with poems about childhood memories, loss, mortality and the resonance of a natural moment. Wisdom hangs at times in the spaces that emerge along words that fore and aft connect ideas within his practically patented short lines and extended run-on sentences. But in a book-length collection his reliance on that formula also occasionally takes on the air of a conceit stretched too thin. Similarly, a poem's heat always depends to some measure on what is at stake and for ...more
Hope N
Jan 18, 2016 Hope N rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
As W.S. Merwin says in my favorite poem from this collection "Stories come to us like new senses". So do good poems and this collection is full of those sorts of recognitions: poems that describe things we knew all along and could never voice. Merwin takes us from childhood to death, through philosophy and picking blueberries in his delicate, thoughtful and luminous style. And just like that, I have a new favorite book of poetry.
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  • Walking to Martha's Vineyard
  • Repair
  • The Best of It: New and Selected Poems
  • Practical Gods
  • Delights and Shadows
  • Different Hours
  • Failure
  • Time and Materials
  • Collected Poems
  • Late Wife
  • Native Guard
  • Versed
  • Moy Sand and Gravel
  • The Simple Truth
  • Blizzard of One
  • Black Zodiac
  • The World Doesn't End
  • Selected Poems
William Stanley Merwin (New York City, September 30, 1927) is an American poet, credited with over 30 books of poetry, translation and prose. During the 1960s anti-war movement, Merwin's unique craft was thematically characterized by indirect, unpunctuated narration. In the 1980s and 1990s, Merwin's writing influence derived from his interest in Buddhist philosophy and deep ecology. Residing in Ha ...more
More about W.S. Merwin...

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“part memory part distance remaining
mine in the ways that I learn to miss you”
“I look for you my curl of sleep
my breathing wave on the night shore
my star in the fog of morning
I think you can always find me

I call to you under my breath
I whisper to you through the hours
all your names my ear of shadow
I think you can always hear me

I wait for you my promised day
my time again my homecoming
my being where you wait for me
I think always of you waiting”
More quotes…