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The Shadow of Sirius

4.15  ·  Rating Details ·  1,120 Ratings  ·  116 Reviews
Winner of the 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.

"A collection of luminous, often tender poems that focus on the profound power of memory." —Pulitzer Prize Committee

"In his personal anonymity, his strict individuated manner, his defense of the
Paperback, 130 pages
Published October 1st 2009 by Copper Canyon Press (first published September 1st 2008)
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Sep 01, 2012 s.penkevich rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 24, 2011 William1 rated it it was amazing
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 12, 2009 S. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jim Elkins
Oct 09, 2012 Jim Elkins rated it really liked it
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
Patrick Gibson
Apr 21, 2009 Patrick Gibson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 30, 2009 Maria rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 19, 2009 martha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Susan Katz
Aug 29, 2009 Susan Katz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 10, 2011 Bill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 24, 2011 metaphor rated it it was amazing
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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 24, 2012 Pierre rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 09, 2010 Brian rated it it was ok
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
Aug 03, 2012 Steve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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...
Bradley Harrison
"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.
J.S. Graustein
Jun 16, 2011 J.S. Graustein rated it really liked it
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  ·  review of another edition
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...
Chelsea Rae
Jan 15, 2017 Chelsea Rae rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
reading this book was one of the dreamiest experiences i've had in a while. it felt like floating!! merwin's enjambment means that the poems blend together in a really beautiful, slurred kind of way - i went back and reread most of them as soon as i'd finished, because my brain felt hazy and i wanted to make sure i was catching the details as well as the overall feel.
Suri J.
Mar 04, 2017 Suri J. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Truly beautiful. My favorite poems within the collection include "Going", "Little Soul", "Youth", and "Rain Light." The final line of each poem is haunting and leaves you with an echo of emotion.

This book is an inspiration: Merwin's poetry will make you want to write your own poetry.
kat cariaso
Jan 18, 2017 kat cariaso rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
No words other than one of my favorite excerpts:

"Remember how the naked soul
Comes to language and at once knows
Loss and distance and believing"

And a quick thought:
When Merwin remarks fondly on a memory and says
"Part distance, part remaining
Mine in the ways I learn to miss you"

It did spark something deeply in me. It's funny because I'm one of the most forgetful people I know and yet this passage about memory and time hits something familiar and poignant.
Because think about it - as we lay here si
Feb 20, 2017 Blanche rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, owned
This was my very first book of Merwin poems, a gift from my parents for Christmas. He chooses to not use any punctuation of any kind in his work, allowing the reader to create their own emphasis points within each poem (and requiring a much closer attention to the words themselves). I found my in-head reading voice transformed into a performance voice, as I imagined speaking these pieces out loud. Merwin is dealing with emotions and memories in these pieces, which is very different from the plac ...more
Michael Julian Arnett
Feb 06, 2014 Michael Julian Arnett rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 27, 2013 Chin Hwa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 11, 2017 Ana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Refreshing, and full of longing. I find I'm drawn to specific words or phrases in Merwin's poems, and how if you change the pace at which you read, you can discover different interpretations. They're haunting, all of them, and I'm especially glad for the translation of Hadrian's poem about halfway through.
Jul 17, 2010 Nicola rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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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: Poems
  • 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…