W.S. Merwin On The Music Of Poetry

by Thomas Brett

Years ago I stumbled upon a poem somewhere among W.S. Merwin’s many volumes that articulated perfectly the connection between musical sound as a space for housing memories.  (I can’t remember the poem, but will search for it and let you know.)  I remembered how much I enjoyed Merwin’s work when I spotted a recent interview with him in O Magazine, where the poet talked about how and why we read poetry.   For me, Merwin could have been referring to our approach to musical sound, or even tasting fine cuisine. When it comes to our interactions with carefully designed, affective objects, we don’t engage in a rational process, but instead find intuitive, resonant responses to things and phenomena that move us:

“People say they don’t read poetry because they don’t understand it.  But you don’t start by understanding it; you begin by physically responding to it: You’re hearing something. You’re moved.  It’s not because you just understood a calculus problem—something’s got to you, you’re not quite sure why and how.”