The Folding Cliffs: A Narrative of 19th-Century Hawaii

The Folding Cliffs: A Narrative of 19th-Century Hawaii

by W. S. Merwin


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From a major American poet — a thrilling story, in verse, of nineteenth-century Hawaii. The story of an attempt by the government to seize and constrain possible victims of leprosy and the determination of one small family not to be taken. A tale of the perils and glories of their flight into the wilds of the island of Kauai, pursued by a gunboat full of soldiers.

A brilliant capturing — inspired by the poet's respect for the people of these islands — of their life, their history, the gods and goddesses of their mythic past. A somber revelation of the wrecking of their culture through the exploitative incursions of Europeans and Americans. An epic narrative that enthralls with the grandeur of its language and of its vision.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375701511
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/28/2000
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 583,002
Product dimensions: 6.09(w) x 9.14(h) x 0.74(d)

About the Author

W. S. Merwin was born in New York City in 1927 and grew up in Union City, New Jersey, and in Scranton, Pennsylvania. From 1949 to 1951 he worked as a tutor in France, Portugal, and Majorca. He has since lived in many parts of the world, most recently on Maui in the Hawaiian Islands. His many books of poems, prose, and translations are listed at the beginning of this volume. He has been the recipient of many awards and prizes, including the Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets (of which he is now a Chancellor), the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, and the Bollingen Prize in Poetry; most recently he has received the Governor's Award for Literature of the state of Hawaii, the Tanning Prize for mastery in the art of poetry, a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

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The Folding Cliffs: A Narrative of 19th-Century Hawaii 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Brasidas on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoy Merwin's poetry. It is among the most accessible I know. He has a masterly way with narrative, too. He could easily, I think, far more easily than becoming one of our greatest poets, have been an enormously successful novelist. See THE MAYS OF VENTADORN or THE LOST UPLAND, both prose. The former is the story of Provence's troubadours during the Middle Ages and the development of their poetry, the latter is set in France's Dordonne region in the middle of the last century. THE FOLDING CLIFFS is no less masterful. Yet this time the vehicle is poetry. Set in enjamned, ten to fourteen syllable, punctuation-free lines, it is an epic story Hawaii. The central story is as unlikely as it is page-turning. It is the late 19th century on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Foreigners are conspiring to steal the island chain from its lawful native rulers in a mostly bloodless coup d'etat. One of the colonizer's tools for effecting this change is the law governing the quarantining of lepers. Many, even in our day, still believe leprosy to be a highly contagious and incurable disease. Not true. Neither is forced quarantine and segregation of its victims necessary. In late 19th century Hawaii, however, the disease falls conveniently into the colonizer's lily-white hands. Widely viewed as God's vengeance on the overly sensual native manner of life, the foreigners are able to use it as a way of attacking native Hawaiian social integrity. However, one family, that of Ko'olau and Pi'ilani and their son Kaliemanu, decide that they will not allow themselves to be hauled off to quarantine. You are probably saying to yourself right now: "Gee, does this ever sound boring! Why would I want to read that?" And you would be right in thinking that if the story were in the hands of anyone but W.S. Merwin. Merwin is a wonder. The story he tells, with a cast of hundreds, touches on the lives of a broad cross section of humanity. I don't think there is an adverb in all of THE FOLDING CLIFFS. In fact I found myself at the beginning seeing rhymthic similarities with Faulkner. This is not to say that Merwin is derivative. Rather he is touching on the same core English rhythms, rediscovering it in a way--making it new in Pound's phrase--as did one of our finest modern novelists. Many years ago I read Hemingway's letters. In one he remarked that when you read a truly wonderful book, that no matter how you try, you can't really see how it was done. That's very much my feeling with THE FOLDING CLIFFS. How was Merwin able to do it? It's a mystery. We see most of the decisions he made along the way, but the final product is greater than the sum of its parts. It is the great wonder of true art. Read it. It will keep you up at night.
Mr.Durick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am willing to accept that this is verse, tentatively. If ever I cross paths with Mr. Merwin, I will ask him why we can claim it to be verse. That said, though I couldn't identify a meter, there is a chant like quality and an intensity that begs special recognition.That chant like quality and intensity serve the story, which is a story of family despair, and possibly of national despair. It is also a story of personal triumph. Reading the last chapter, I experienced chills, and a few minutes after I finished the book I cried a little, for the first time in about two decades.The volume captures the feel of Hawaii, and Mr. Merwin claims not to have falsified anything -- I believe he is true.I encourage anyone literate to engage this tale. It is at least close to necessary.