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An Ecocritical Interpretation of W.S. Merwin’s Poetry

Author BaiMingLi
Tutor ZhangYueJun
School Central South University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords W.S. Merwin poetry natural ecology social ecology spiritual ecology
Type Master's thesis
Year 2008
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W. S. Merwin, a recognized prominent poet in contemporary American Literature, has gradually achieved an international reputation with his poems, essays and reviews embedded by the rigorous sense of urgent protection of the whole ecological environment. In confrontation with such an age when ecological crises are being aggravated worldwide instead of being alleviated along with the scientific and technological advancement, he moved from New York to Hawaii in the 1970s and has been endeavoring to devote himself to environmentalism through his personal practice and his literary creation. He lives in a house he helped to design and build, and restores the rainforests there that have been suffering from degradation for a plurality of years.Moreover, as a poet, Merwin adopts his distinctive talents and poetic creation to express his anxiety for human beings’ destructiveness and also self-destructiveness. In modern society, not only the natural world but also the social and spiritual worlds of human beings experience crises as a result of man’s destruction of the natural balance. For Merwin, in addition to his profound concern for the natural ecology, he also lays great emphasis on the endangered aboriginal languages and cultures, which constitute part of the whole history of human civilization. He strives to inspire man to preserve those native languages and culture. Furthermore, he attaches great importance to human beings’ "sense of place," and opposes to the domination of human beings over the nature and the independence of human beings on advanced science and technology only for economic interest. Instead, he calls for human beings to respect the nature and to return to the nature, but not to be alienated from the nature.The thesis primarily focuses on the theme of "extinction" in Merwin’s poetry and attempts to provide an interpretation of his poems from the ecocritical perspective. Totally four chapters are involved in the thesis. Chapter 1 presents an overview of ecocriticism and general introduction to Merwin’s ecological consciousness and the following chapters gradually examines the theme of "extinction" from three independent but relative aspects. Chapter 2 emphasizes on the extinction in the natural ecology. While condemning the anthropocentric encroachment of human beings on nature and insisting that the destructive behaviors of human beings have resulted in the unprecedented deterioration of the natural environment human beings depend on for living, Merwin never hesitates to admit the intrinsic value of nature and endeavors to stimulate the ecological consciousness of human beings so as to live a life in harmony with nature instead of excessive dependence on machinery and technology of modern civilization. Chapter 3 discusses the oblivion of languages and cultures, especially those native ones. As the physical world is degrading, the languages and cultures are also experiencing the destiny of oblivion with the advancement of mass culture and inevitable influence of powerful ones on those relatively weak ones. Merwin is mainly concerned with the Hawaiian native languages and cultures since he has been living there and devoting himself to envirbnmentalism. In addition, he also recollects the provincial cultures of France where he once lived. Chapter 4 concentrates on the spiritual ecology. With the development of science and technology, human beings in modern society seem to have lost "sense of place" and are confined within limited space. Merwin manages to show a harmonious relationship with nature with his own Hawaii attachment.Influenced by both western Christianity and eastern Zen Buddhism, Merwin spares no efforts to remind human beings of their own destructive and self-destructive behaviors and ultimately aims to express his anticipation for poetic dwelling. His ecopoetry not only exerts certain influence on the environmentalism of Hawaii, but also contributes to the construction of an ecological society.

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