W.S. Merwin

March 7, 2007


William Stanley Merwin
Father was a Presbyterian minister and Merwin wrote hymns very early in his life
Received B.A. from Princeton where he met John Berryman
Left U.S. to live in England, France and Portugal
Supported himself by translating French and Spanish literature for broadcast by the BBC
Returned to the U.S. to be a playwright and editor
Revered nature and condemned its poisoning and destruction
Local and personal subjects
Made increasingly daring experiments in metrical irregularity and thematic disorganization
Melancholy poems tinged with surrealism, opens a hushed space for the irrational, the dead and the dying the be heard
Elegaic and prophetic
Sees traditional form as an obstacle to poetry’s naked condition
Verse is deliberately bare and meditative, avoids mannerisms and decorations


For a good decade / The furnace stood in the naked gully, fireless / And vacant as any hat. Then when it was / No more to them than a hulking black fossil / To erode unnoticed with the rest of the junk-hill / By the poisonous creek, and rapidly to be added / To their ignorance,
They were afterwards astonished / To confirm, one morning, a twist of smoke like a pale / Resurrection, staggering out of its chewed hole, / And to remark then other tokens that someone, / Cosily bolted behind the eye-holded iron / Door of the drafty burner, had there established / His bad castle.
Where he gets his spirits / It’s a mystery. But the stuff keeps him musical: / Hammer-and-anvilling with poker and bottle / To his jugged bellowings, till the last groaning clang / As he collapses onto the rioting / Springs of a littler of car-seats ranged on the grates, / To sleep like an iron pig.
In their tar-paper church / On a text about stoke-holes that are sated never / Their Reverend lingers. They nod and hate trespassers. / When the furnace wakes, though, all afternoon / Their witless offspring flock like piped rats to its siren / Crescendo, and agape on the crumbling ridge / Stand in a row and learn.

-The Drunk in the Furnace (in whole)

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day / When the last fires will wave to me / And the silence will se out / Tireless traveller / Like the beam of a lighless star
Then I will no longer / Find myself in life as in a strange garment / Surprised at the earth / And the love of one woman / And the shamelssness of men / As today writing after three days of rain / Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease / And bowing not knowing to what

-For the Anniversary of My Death (in whole)

When the forests have been destroyed their darkness remains  /The ash the great walker follows the possessors / Forever / Nothing they will come to is real / Nor for long / Over the watercourses / Like ducks in the time of the ducks / The ghosts of the villages trail in the sky / Making a new twilight / Rain falls into the open eyes of the dead / Again again with its pointless sound / When the moon finds them they are the color of everything
The nights disappear like bruises but nothing is healed / The dead go away like bruises / The blood vanishes into the poisoned farmlands / Pain the horizon / Remains / Overhead the seasons rock / They are paper bells / Calling to nothing living
The possessors move everywhere under Death their star / Like columns of smoke they advance into the shadow / Like thin flames with no light / They with no past / And fire their only future

-The Asians Dying (in whole)

Gray whale / Now that we are sending you to The End / That great god / Tell him / That we who follow you invented forgiveness / And forgive nothing
I write as though you could understand / And I could say it / One must always pretend something / Among the dying / When you have left the seas nodding on their stalks / Empty of you / Tell him that we were made / On another day
The bewilderment will diminish like an echo / Winding along your inner mountains / Unheard by us / And find its way out / Leaving behind it the future / Dead / And ours
When you will not see again / The whale calves trying the light / Consider what you will find in the black garden / And its court / The sea cows the Great Auks the gorillas / The irreplaceable hosts ranged countless / And fore-ordaining as stars / Our sacrifices / Join your word to theirs / Tell him / That it is we who are important

-For a Coming Extinction (in whole)


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