The Library of Congress has announced that W.S. Merwin will be America’s next poet laureate. About his poetry, there is something to say—but less, perhaps, than you might think, given the prizes he’s won. Still, you remember poems like his one about the expatriate who realizes it’s time to go home:
Already I defend hotly
Certain of our indefensible faults,
Resent being reminded; already in my mind
Our language becomes freighted with a richness
No common tongue could offer, while the mountains
Are like nowhere on earth, and the wide rivers.
Over at National Review, our widely read friend John J. Miller observes, “A few years ago, I wrote about his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I’m no expert on his other work, but he strikes me as a good choice.”
It would not have been possible for me ever to trust someone who acquired office by the shameful means Mr. Bush and his abettors resorted to in the last presidential election. His nonentity was rapidly becoming more apparent than ever when the catastrophe of September 11, 2001, provided him and his handlers with a role for him, that of “wartime leader,” which they, and he in turn, were quick to exploit. This role was used at once to silence all criticism of the man and his words as unpatriotic, and to provide the auspices for a sustained assault upon civil liberties, environmental protections and general welfare.
The perpetuation of this role of “wartime leader” is the primary reason—more important even than the greed for oilfields and the wish to blot out his father’s failure—for the present determination to visit war upon Iraq, kill and maim countless people, and antagonize much of the world of which Mr. Bush had not heard until recently.
The real iniquities of Saddam Hussein should be recognized, in this context, as the pretexts they are. His earlier atrocities went unmentioned as long as he was an ally of former Republican administrations, which were happy, in their time, to supply him with weapons.
I think that someone who was maneuvered into office against the will of the electorate, as Mr. Bush was, should be allowed to make no governmental decisions (including judicial appointments) that might outlast his questionable term, and if the reasons for war were many times greater than they have been said to be I would oppose anything of the kind under such “leadership.” To arrange a war in order to be re-elected outdoes even the means employed in the last presidential election. Mr. Bush and his plans are a greater danger to the United States than Saddam Hussein.
At the very least, can’t we suggest that Merwin was wrong about the whole “silence all criticism of the man” line? I mean, for his criticism, Merwin was so silenced that his anti-Bush harangue was printed in The Nation, his publisher brought out new editions of his work, and he’s just been made poet laureate. It seems no amount of nutty overstatement in those days is ever going to be held against those who uttered it.