In 1948, twenty-one, already married and graduated from Princeton, W. S. Merwin made his first trip abroad. Travel from America to Europe became a commonplace, an ordinary commodity, some time ago, but when I first went such departure was still surrounded with an atmosphere of adventure and improvisation, and my youth and inexperience and my all but complete lack of money heightened that vertiginous sensation.” Thus begins his most recent memoir, Summer Doorways.
Through his days as a student in seminary school and at Princeton, through the years next spent as a tutor for the children of privilege living abroad, Summer Doorways tells the story of the poet’s youth in the few years before he won the Yale Younger Poets Award in 1952. And it describes life in Europe that was already passing away at the close of the Second World War. He writes, I would have the luck to discover, to glimpse, to touch for a moment some ancient, measureless way of living, of being in the world, some fabric long taken for granted, never finished yet complete, at once fixed and evanescent as a work of art, an entire age just before it was gone, like a summer.”
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W. S. Merwin is the author of more than forty books of poetry, prose, and translation, including The Carrier of Ladders, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He has been honored with the Bollingen Award, the first Tanning Award, the Ruth Lilly Prize, and many others. He has lived for many years in Hawaii.
In 34 brief, dreamy chapters, esteemed American poet and translator Merwin meanders back to the late 1940s and early 1950s summers of his youth and inexperience. At age 16, he was blessedly released from the watchful protection of his stern Presbyterian father in Scranton, Pa., to attend Princeton, when the university was bereft of young men serving in WWII. Through a Princeton acquaintance, Alain Prévost (son of French writer Jean Prévost), the impressionable young Merwin secured the position of tutor to Prévost's friend Alan Stuyvesant's nephew, Peter, and spent an idyllic summer at the eminent family's bucolic home, Deer Park, in Hackettstown, N.J. Over two summers with Alan's aristocratic family, first at Deer Park, then in St. Jean Cap-Ferrat, France, near Nice, the fledgling writer glimpsed for the first time "some ancient, measureless way of living." Upon graduating, he returned to Europe with his wife and two 12-year-olds he would tutor for the summer in the south of France. Merwin (The Ends of the Earth) is best at succinct, decisive cameos: characters enter his enchanted sphere, then vanish, such as the visiting young Samuel Beckett, memorable for the exquisite fineness of his cucumber slicing. Purposefully incomplete, occasionally frustrating, Merwin's book traces lost worlds. (Sept.)
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