“Merwin’s verse often gives the impression of language scavenged from the elements, its power reckoned only as its meanings assemble, phrase by phrase, against the white of the page. Simple astonishment, one of the rarest of all literary experiences, is the most potent outcome.” —The New Yorker
“Merwin’s skill is matched by his wisdom and his ability to connect a particular moment with something larger.” —The Washington Post
Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W. S. Merwin turns his mastery of language and powerful attention to the origins of twelfth-century Provençal troubadours. Merwin deftly blends personal anecdotes—his pilgrimage at the age of eighteen to visit Ezra Pound at St. Elizabeth’s hospital, his purchase of an abandoned farmhouse in Quercy—with his exploration of Southern France’s rich history and linguistic heritage.
We sat in a tower of the old library building , a long room among the rafters, a kind of loft that had never been finished like the rooms on the floors below, so that our graceless attempts at giving voice to a few sounds and phrases of medieval French took place inside masonry that had been designed to resemble a fortified belfry or a keep with battlements.
A preeminent voice in American literature with a prolific career spanning over half a century, W. S. Merwin has received nearly every accolade available to an American poet including Pulitzer Prizes for his books Carrier of Ladders (1971) and The Shadow of Sirius (2009). He currently lives in Haiku, Hawaii.
“Merwin’s conception of poetry is devotional in its service to other languages and cultures. Mays of Ventadorn is not only a story about troubadours handing down their songs through the ages, but about how poetry itself seems to engineer twists of fate in the lives of its acolytes”
—The New York Review of Books
"One of the finest senior U.S. poets stunningly evokes in prose the fabled romance and dark beauty of southwestern France. Seemingly channeling the troubadour spirit of the region, Merwin paints broad, but strikingly detailed, landscapes with his words, using language itself as a main character. He intermingles his personal experiences in the region with the songs of twelfth-century troubadours, illustrating superbly the flexibility of time in the historical cocoon of this ancient and endlessly resurrected locale. Often the prose sounds like poetry, and few other travel writings could aspire to the miraculously transporting quality of these crystalline sentences. The reader feels the restorative effects of this region and its poetry on Merwin, and cannot help but be touched. Like the songs of his troubadours, this little book soothes the soul while keeping the senses wide awake."—Booklist, on Mays of Ventadorn