This Nothing This Heaven: Notes on W.S. Merwin’s The Shadow of Sirius

The Cresset, Vol. 76, Trinity 2012

“Collapsed opposition” is a perfectly good definition of paradox, and paradox is the means by which Merwin often reaches beyond apparent contradictions to describe experiences and apprehensions that cannot be reduced to conventional categories of thought. “Just This” does not attempt to resolve the paradox on which it lands—“this nothing this heaven.” The phrase “this heaven” neither revises nor replaces “this nothing”: both stand together, both are given equal weight, both are simultaneously true. We begin to approach the nature of things, the poem seems to be ­saying, when we can see the truth of both statements at the same time without losing the sense of their contradiction.

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