W. S. Merwin, 1981
POETRY MISCELLANY: In The Nation in 1962 you wrote: "Symbolism is never far from man's efforts inevitably, in acts of conscience--he is reduced to consoling himself with considerations of what his project might signify rather than what it might accomplish." The context for the statement was ironic, one of those political writings you did for that magazine. And yet this might be a good place to begin for us because your poems have, often, a mythic quality, and myth often seems to be a teasing out of narrative from symbol. I think "The Dwelling" does this. There's a way in which you see stories or myths behind everything. "Oh objects come and talk with us while you can," you say in The Carrier of Ladders. Perhaps, then, we can talk about myth, symbol, narrative.
W. S. MERWIN: When you say that myth is a teasing out, that suggests that symbol and myth operate on the same level and that symbolism is a static version or aspect of narrative. That may be so, but I am rather chary of these words; we would have to define our terms, which we may not be able to do to start with. I suspect symbol is more static than myth and probably closer to allegory, which sets up a one-to-one correspondence with what is represented. Myth is pretty hard to isolate. It's a dimension underlying sensual experience; if sensual experience is seen with sufficient intensity and identification, then you are already treading in the preludes of myth. That is, you're realizing your own dreams. You analyze them and begin to
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Publication information: Book title: Acts of Mind:Conversations with Contemporary Poets. Contributors: Richard Jackson - Author. Publisher: University of Alabama Press. Place of publication: University, AL. Publication year: 1983. Page number: 48.