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Winner of the 2012 National Book Award for Poetry.
To read David Ferry's "Bewilderment" is to be reminded that poetry of the highest order can be made by the subtlest of means. The passionate nature and originality of Ferry's prosodic daring works astonishing transformations that take your breath away. In poem after poem, his diction modulates beautifully between plainspoken high eloquence and colloquial vigor, making his distinctive speech one of the most interesting and ravishing achievements of the past half century. Ferry has fully realized both the potential for vocal expressiveness in his phrasing and the way his phrasing plays against and with his genius for metrical variation. His vocal phrasing thus becomes an amazingly flexible instrument of psychological and spiritual inquiry. Most poets write inside a very narrow range of experience and feeling, whether in free or metered verse. But Ferry's use of meter tends to enhance the colloquial nature of his writing, while giving him access to an immense variety of feeling. Sometimes that feeling is so powerful it's like witnessing a volcanologist taking measurements in the midst of an eruption.Ferry's translations, meanwhile, are amazingly acclimated English poems. Once his voice takes hold of them they are as bred in the bone as all his other work. And the translations in this book are vitally related to the original poems around them.
The day was hot, and entirely breathless, so
The remarkably quiet remarkably steady leaf fall
Seemed as if it had no cause at all.
The ticking sound of falling leaves was like
The ticking sound of gentle rainfall as
They gently fell on leaves already fallen,
Or as, when as they passed them in their falling,
Now and again it happened that one of them touched
One or another leaf as yet not falling,
Still clinging to the idea of being summer:
As if the leaves that were falling, but not the day,
Had read, and understood, the calendar.
“This powerful book accompanies its poems with fine translations that reverberate its themes, and with moving responses to the verse of a late colleague. Bewilderment is the best work of a master whose major theme has always been human loneliness.”
“There is no better poet on the planet than David Ferry, and Bewilderment is his best book. For the music that only poetry can offer, for the acute sensation of time passing, for the feeling of life as an effect of absent causes, for the haunted house that is both the present moment and the language by which the present is expressed, the poems in Bewilderment cannot be beat. This book should be read in the same spirit by which it has been written: by heart.”
“Define ‘great’ however you like, David Ferry is a great poet. Everything in his new book, Bewilderment, rises above the plausible, the ‘good writing’ that wins the prizes, the aesthetic wrangles and period styles of the moment. This book powerfully projects what Wallace Stevens called ‘a new knowledge of reality’—one stricken by time, but timelessly achieved. I can’t imagine the reader who wouldn’t love this book.”
“In this new book of his, David Ferry weaves together, and wonderfully, translations, poems, and poems responding to poems, in such a way as to deepen them all.”
“In this new book, David Ferry shows us that his magnificent translations are as intimately personal as his own poems are heartbreakingly classical. In his wisdom, his self-awareness, his humor at the ways of the world, he has become our Horace. And even better, in the process he has also become more deeply and indispensably himself.”