Cary Nelson: On "The Drunk in the Furnace"

The final poem in the book, which is also the title poem, is an irrevocable perspective on his work to that point. An empty iron furnace rusts in a trash-ridden gully by a poisonous creek, until a derelict decides to make it his "bad castle." He brings his bottle, bolts the door behind him, and carouses in drunken solitude until he passes out. Written in careful septets, the poem's formal concern for a frivolous occasion mocks all the sonorities of Merwin's previous books. The poem ends with a description of the local adults listening to warnings from their preacher, while their children crowd to the irresistible furnace:


Their witless offspring flock like piped rats to its siren

Crescendo, and agape on the crumbling ridge

Stand in a row and learn.


With this burlesque of all his own overwrought rhetoric, Merwin, can never return to his earlier style. It is a deliberate aggression.


Title Cary Nelson: On "The Drunk in the Furnace" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Cary Nelson Criticism Target W. S. Merwin
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 03 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication W.S. Merwin: Essays on the Poetry
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