Belatedly, we mourn the passing of WS Merwin, masterful poet, environmentalist and defender of justice who died Friday at 91 at his home on Maui, where over decades he and his wife built a palm forest "as fearless and graceful (as) the power of imagination and renewal." In language spare, grave, stirring, the award-winning Merwin explored loss, war, nature and the passage of time. Always, he gave thanks, "dark though it is." Poet Edward Hirsch: "He is like a great pine tree that has fallen."
Thanks for getting this Abby, CD - a great poet of our times who I go back to.
Not a ‘public poet.’ Difficult and - at his most political - political only in allusive ways. Anyone who reads this might want to see:
Thank you for this.
He did all he could and more.
I love this poem. I also wish that someday ( soon) we had a president with a mind like this. Maybe this is what a philosopher king would be I think he would have refused the king part though.
Writings to an Unfinished Accompaniment is a book that I have held near for over 45 years.
By W. S. Merwin
I gave you sorrow to hang on your wall
Like a calendar in one color.
I wear a torn place on my sleeve.
It isn’t as simple as that.
Between no place of mine and no place of yours
You’d have thought I’d know the way by now
Just from thinking it over.
Oh I know
I’ve no excuse to be stuck here turning
Like a mirror on a string,
Except it’s hardly credible how
It all keeps changing.
Loss has a wider choice of directions
Than the other thing.
As if I had a system
I shuffle among the lies
Turning them over, if only
I could be sure what I’d lost.
I uncover my footprints, I
Poke them till the eyes open.
They don’t recall what it looked like.
When was I using it last?
Was it like a ring or a light
Or the autumn pond
Which chokes and glitters but
It could be all in the mind. Anyway
Nothing seems to bring it back to me.
And I’ve been to see
Your hands as trees borne away on a flood,
The same film over and over,
And an old one at that, shattering its account
To the last of the digits, and nothing
And the blank end.
The lightning has shown me the scars of the future.
I’ve had a long look at someone
Alone like a key in a lock
Without what it takes to turn.
It isn’t as simple as that.
Winter will think back to your lit harvest
For which there is no help, and the seed
Of eloquence will open its wings
When you are gone.
But at this moment
When the nails are kissing the fingers good-bye
And my only
Chance is bleeding from me,
When my one chance is bleeding,
For speaking either truth or comfort
I have no more tongue than a wound.
WS Merwin, Presente!
Beautiful. Thank you.
Got that collection too - how I first got to know his work.
Just to note: Merwin refused the Pulitzer in 1972. The article states this as 1962.
HI Steven_Harris: I wondered who won in 1972 if Merwin turned it down, so I went to pulitzer.org and it listed him as winning in 1971. This is very weird—as if he turned it down there’s no 2nd choice? So if a person turns it down they remain listed anyway? I really love his writing whether he ever got a prize or not
Maybe he’s still alive and someone got that date wrong too?
1971…1972…what difference does it make? His work is timeless (like my guess at which early seventies year he was awarded the Pulitzer but declined it). As quoted on my email signature:
“I have with me
all that I do not know
I have lost none of it”
– W.S. Merwin
“The Nomad Flute”
The Shadow of Sirius
HI Steven_ Harris— I was just supporting your idea to check info as the date was different in the story. It only matters because you wrote of '61 being the wrong date, and I was just sharing how hard it was to find the right date for it.
In this era of fake news, it can be fake on purpose or just an error. : )