The Shadow of Sirius perfectly encapsulates what there is to love about Merwin and what is so frustrating about Merwin. It is one of his most accomplishments, but there is such a sameness to all of his poetry. It’s a little petty to complain, because it is such wonderful poetry, but just adding some old age (a different approach to memory and mortality) doesn’t change the fact that Merwin has been stylistically the same for over forty years. And while much of The Shadow of Sirius may be technically better than them, I still say that Merwin has been repeating shadows (pun intended) of those wonderful, powerful poems from The Lice (1968, I believe) and Carrier of Ladders (1970, I believe).
In the poem Escape Artist, writes: When they arrange the cages/for experiments/they have long known/that there is no magic/in foxes at any time
The poem is (at least partly; ostensibly) about raising animals for their fur and also for experimentation. The Merwin of The Lice would have been more engaged on the issue, but this Merwin meanders off into a gentle melancholy. Merwin was rarely fierce, but not always so passive.
But credit where credit due – I loved this short poem:
When the moon has gone I fly on alone
into this night where I have never been
the eggshell of dark before and after
in its height I am older and younger
than all that I have come to and beheld
and carry still untouched across the cold.
That poem has some wonderful touches of surrealism and tweaks the Merwin style with hints of an almost rhyme scheme (semi-heroic couplets?). I would have been happy had there been more of that and less of the rest.