Poems: W.S. Merwin


The day hanging by its feet with a hole

In its voice

And the light running into the sand

Here I am once again with my dry mouth

At the fountain of thistles

Preparing to sing.


I want to tell what the forests

were like

I will have to speak

in a forgotten language


That day the huge water drowned all the voices until

It seemed a kind of silence unbroken

By anything: a time unto itself and still;

So that when I turned away from its roaring, down

The path over the gully, and there were

Dogs barking as always at the edge of town,

Car horns and the cries of children coming

As though for the first time through the fading light

Of the winter dusk, my ears still sang

Like shells with the swingeing current, and

Its flood echoing in me held for long

About me the same silence, by whose sound

I could hear only the quiet under the day

With the land noises floating there far-off and still;

So that even in my mind now turning away

From having listened absently but for so long

It will be the seethe and drag of the river

That I will hear longer than any mortal song.


Who would it surprise

If (after the flash, hush, rush,

Thump, and crumpling) when the wind of prophecy

Lifts its pitch, and over the drifting ash

At last the trump splits the sky,

No One should arise

(No one just as before:

No limbs, eyes, presence;

Mindless and incorruptible) to inherit

Without question the opening heavens,

To be alone, to be complete,

And so forever?

Who had kept our secrets,

Whose wisdom we had heeded,

Who had stood near us (we proved it) again

And again in the dark, to whom we had prayed

Naturally and most often,

Who had escaped our malice―

No more than equitable

By No One to be succeeded,

Who had known our merits, had believed

Our lies, before ourselves whom we had considered

And (after ourselves) had loved

Constantly and well.


When it is not yet day
I am walking on centuries of dead chestnut leaves
In a place without grief
Though the oriole
Out of another life warns me
That I am awake

In the dark while the rain fell
The gold chanterelles pushed through a sleep that was not mine
Waking me
So that I came up the mountain to find them

Where they appear it seems I have been before
I recognize their haunts as though remembering
Another life

Where else am I walking even now
Looking for me

(from Migration)


Dogs grief and the love of coffee
lengthen like a shadow of mine

and now that my eyes no longer
swear to anything I look out

through the cloud light of this autumn
and see the valley where I came

first more than half my life ago
oh more than half with its river

a sky in the palm of a hand
never unknown and never known

never mine and not mine
beyond it into the distance

the ridges reflect the clouds now
through a morning without shadows

the river still seems not to move
as though it were the same river

(from Shadow of Sirius)



William Stanley Merwin is a poet, translator, gardener and environmental activist. Among his best known works are his first collection, A Mask for Janus (1952), which was selected by W. H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Since then his career has spanned six decades and includes twenty titles of translation along with many honors including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the National Book Award for Poetry, and the Tanning Prize by the Academy of American Poets. In 2010, he was appointed United States Poet Laureate by the Library of Congress. Merwin has cultivated and maintained a Zen practice for decades. The poems published here first appeared in his collection, Migration: New & Selected Poems (2005).