By Harold Bloom (Editor)
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Additional resources for Contemporary Poets (Bloom's Modern Critical Views), New Edition
That audience is the audience of the New Yorker and Poetry, of the Hudson Review and the Yale Review; it is this audience that has kept Merwin’s poems in print, unlike almost anyone else’s poems one can cite today, going through countless editions in their elegant Atheneum jackets. It is an audience that recognizes that, like Gray, Merwin almost never writes a bad line of poetry: “wind without flags,” for example, conveys precisely and economically the sense of emptiness Merwin wants to depict.
It is the familiar allegory of pilgrimage—nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita. But the working out of this allegory involves Merwin in a certain contradiction between form and meaning. What Howard calls the “key” to the “unconditional life” is found, formally speaking, all too easily. We are told that the journey is difficult, that the beginning of the plains marks a frightening threshold, but the poem unfolds without struggle in what is a continuous narrative made up of simple declarative sentences (“I change countries”; “I recognize the first hunger”) and noun phrases (“few shelves kept only by children”; “wind without flags”).
Clint Eastwood’s film In the Line of Fire (1993), for instance, plays upon this cultural suspicion: Playing the character of a secret service agent who had been President Kennedy’s favorite protector, Eastwood claims that Kennedy was “different” from the fictional president he is now defending. Indeed, he claims that everything was different then. Now there is nothing but game-playing. He wonders if the world would still hold definitive meaning if he had been able to prevent Kennedy’s assassination.
Contemporary Poets (Bloom's Modern Critical Views), New Edition by Harold Bloom (Editor)