Charles Altieri: On "Looking for Mushrooms at Sunrise"

What hope Merwin can derive from the volume's journey is embodied here, but it remains qualified by the appeals of death and the void. . . .

The poem's final question casts us back on other questions raised along its way. What is it that calls him to the mushrooms--is it some common life-process they share which the morning wakes in him, or is it a deep participation in the blankness of death only imaged in "a sleep that was not mine"? What is the other life he remembers--an instinctive childlike sharing in natural growth or a state of nonbeing before life? Do the mushrooms live in or live off the darkness and the decaying chestnut leaves in which they thrive? Finally, does the final question suggest that the speaker envisions those incomplete and fragmented parts of himself participating in a natural process by which the living feed off the dead, or do these fragments seek the complete identity of nonbeing?

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Title Charles Altieri: On "Looking for Mushrooms at Sunrise" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Cary Nelson, Ed Folsome Criticism Target W. S. Merwin
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 28 May 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication W.S. Merwin: Essays on the Poetry
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