Acts of Mind: Conversations with Contemporary Poets

By Richard Jackson | Go to book overview

W. S. Merwin, 1981


Unnaming the Myths

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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Acts of Mind: Conversations with Contemporary Poets
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • The Path of Saying 1
  • The Sanctioned Babel 7
  • Untelling the Hour 13
  • The Domain of the Marvelous Prey 19
  • The Hallowing of the Everyday 27
  • Event: Corrective: Cure 32
  • Stepping into the Sky 39
  • Unnaming the Myths 48
  • On the Horizon of Time 53
  • Distilled from Thin Air 61
  • The Imminence of a Revelation 69
  • Renaming the Present 77
  • Lives We Keep Wanting to Know 84
  • Doubling the Difference 93
  • Questions of Will 101
  • Settling in Another Field 107
  • Living the Layers of Time 113
  • Double Vision 120
  • Emergencies of the Moment 126
  • The Languages of Illusion 132
  • The Mystery of Things That Are 140
  • Before the Beginning 146
  • On the Margins of Dreams 153
  • Unbreakable Codes 158
  • Projecting the Literal Word 164
  • Answering the Dark 172
  • Shaping Our Choices 178
  • Magic: Power 183
  • On the Periphery of Time 191
  • The Candle in the Pitcher 196
  • Selected Bibliography 206
  • Index 213
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