W. S. Merwin

W
W. S. Merwin
Berryman
I will tell you what he told me
in the years just after the war
as we then called
the second world war

don't lose your arrogance yet he said
you can do that when you're older
lose it too soon and you may
merely replace it with vanity
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For a Coming Extinction
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
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67
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Thanks
Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
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58
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To the New Year
With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
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84
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In Time
The night the world was going to end
when we heard those explosions not far away
and the loudspeakers telling us
about the vast fires on the backwater
consuming undisclosed remnants
and warning us over and over
to stay indoors and make no signals
you stood at the open window
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70
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Memorandum
Save these words for a while because
of something they remind you of
although you cannot remember
what that is a sense that is part
dust and part the light of morning

you were about to say a name
and it is not there I forget
them too I am learning to pray
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64
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Night Singing
Long after Ovid’s story of Philomela
has gone out of fashion and after the testimonials
of Hafiz and Keats have been smothered in comment
and droned dead in schools and after Eliot has gone home
from the Sacred Heart and Ransom has spat and consigned
to human youth what he reduced to fairy numbers
after the name has become slightly embarrassing
and dried skins have yielded their details and tapes have been
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61
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Vixen
Comet of stillness princess of what is over
high note held without trembling without voice without sound
aura of complete darkness keeper of the kept secrets
of the destroyed stories the escaped dreams the sentences
never caught in words warden of where the river went
touch of its surface sibyl of the extinguished
window onto the hidden place and the other time
at the foot of the wall by the road patient without waiting
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65
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Identity
When Hans Hofmann became a hedgehog
somewhere in a Germany that has
vanished with its forests and hedgerows
Shakespeare would have been a young actor
starting out in a country that was
only a word to Hans who had learned
from those who had painted animals
only from hearing tales about them
without ever setting eyes on them
or from corpses with the lingering
light mute and deathly still forever
held fast in the fur or the feathers
hanging or lying on a table
and he had learned from others who had
arranged the corpses of animals
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58
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In the Winter of My Thirty-Eighth Year
It sounds unconvincing to say When I was young
Though I have long wondered what it would be like
To be me now
No older at all it seems from here
As far from myself as ever

Walking in fog and rain and seeing nothing
I imagine all the clocks have died in the night
Now no one is looking I could choose my age
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53
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I Live Up Here
I live up here
And a little bit to the left
And I go down only

For the accidents and then
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82
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The Nails
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
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76
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Good People
From the kindness of my parents
I suppose it was that I held
that belief about suffering

imagining that if only
it could come to the attention
of any person with normal
feelings certainly anyone
literate who might have gone

to college they would comprehend
pain when it went on before them
and would do something about it
whenever they saw it happen
in the time of pain the present
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55
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The Animals
All these years behind windows
With blind crosses sweeping the tables

And myself tracking over empty ground
Animals I never saw

I with no voice

Remembering names to invent for them
Will any come back will one

Saying yes
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66
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The Asians Dying
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
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83
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Ballad of John Cable and Three Gentlemen
He that had come that morning,
One after the other,
Over seven hills,
Each of a new color,

Came now by the last tree,
By the red-colored valley,
To a gray river
Wide as the sea.
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78
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Bread
for Wendell Berry Each face in the street is a slice of bread
wandering on
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70
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The Burnt Child
Matches among other things that were not allowed
never would be
lying high in a cool blue box
that opened in other hands and there they all were
bodies clean and smooth blue heads white crowns
white sandpaper on the sides of the box scoring
fire after fire gone before

I could hear the scratch and flare
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71
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For the Anniversary of My Death
Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
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64
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Fox Sleep
On a road through the mountains with a friend many years ago
I came to a curve on a slope where a clear stream
flowed down flashing across dark rocks through its own
echoes that could neither be caught nor forgotten
it was the turning of autumn and already
the mornings were cold with ragged clouds in the hollows
long after sunrise but the pasture sagging like a roof
the glassy water and flickering yellow leaves
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79
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Hearing
Back when it took all day to come up
from the curving broad ponds on the plains
where the green-winged jaçanas ran on the lily pads

easing past tracks at the mouths of gorges
crossing villages silted in hollows
in the foothills
each with its lime-washed church by the baked square
of red earth and its
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73
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Native Trees
Neither my father nor my mother knew
the names of the trees
where I was born
what is that
I asked and my
father and mother did not
hear they did not look where I pointed
surfaces of furniture held
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69
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The Night of the Shirts
Oh pile of white shirts who is coming
to breathe in your shapes to carry your numbers
to appear
what hearts
are moving toward their garments here
their days
what troubles beating between arms

you look upward through
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57
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The River of Bees
In a dream I returned to the river of bees
Five orange trees by the bridge and
Beside two mills my house
Into whose courtyard a blindman followed
The goats and stood singing
Of what was older

Soon it will be fifteen years

He was old he will have fallen into his eyes
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76
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Separation
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
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67
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Sire
Here comes the shadow not looking where it is going,
And the whole night will fall; it is time.
Here comes the little wind which the hour
Drags with it everywhere like an empty wagon through leaves.
Here comes my ignorance shuffling after them
Asking them what they are doing.

Standing still, I can hear my footsteps
Come up behind me and go on
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64
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Small Woman on Swallow Street
Four feet up, under the bruise-blue
Fingered hat-felt, the eyes begin. The sly brim
Slips over the sky, street after street, and nobody
Knows, to stop it. It will cover
The whole world, if there is time. Fifty years’
Start in gray the eyes have; you will never
Catch up to where they are, too clever
And always walking, the legs not long but
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72
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Some Last Questions
What is the head
a. Ash
What are the eyes
a. The wells have fallen in and have
Inhabitants
What are the feet
a. Thumbs left after the auction
No what are the feet
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58
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Song of Three Smiles
Let me call a ghost,
Love, so it be little:
In December we took
No thought for the weather.

Whom now shall I thank
For this wealth of water?
Your heart loves harbors
Where I am a stranger.
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68
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St Vincent’s
Thinking of rain clouds that rose over the city
on the first day of the year

in the same month
I consider that I have lived daily and with

eyes open and ears to hear
these years across from St Vincent’s Hospital
above whose roof those clouds rose

its bricks by day a French red under
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68
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Star
All the way north on the train the sun
followed me followed me without moving
still the sun of that other morning
when we had gone over Come on over
men at the screen door said to my father
You have to see this it’s an ape bring
the little boy bring the boy along

so he brought me along to the field
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69
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The Way to the River
The way to the river leads past the names of
Ash the sleeves the wreaths of hinges
Through the song of the bandage vendor

I lay your name by my voice
As I go

The way to the river leads past the late
Doors and the games of the children born looking backwards
They play that they are broken glass
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72
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Far Company
At times now from some margin of the day
I can hear birds of another country
not the whole song but a brief phrase of it
out of a music that I may have heard
once in a moment I appear to have
forgotten for the most part that full day
no sight of which I can remember now
though it must have been where my eyes were then
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55
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To Luck
In the cards and at the bend in the road
we never saw you
in the womb and in the crossfire
in the numbers
whatever you had your hand in
which was everything
we were told never to put
our faith in you
to bow to you humbly after all
because in the end there was nothing
else we could do
but not to believe in you

still we might coax you with pebbles
kept warm in the hand
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71
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To the Blank Spaces
For longer than by now I can believe
I assumed that you had nothing to do
with each other I thought you had arrived
whenever that had been

more solitary than single snowflakes
with no acquaintance or understanding
running among you guiding your footsteps
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72
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To the Consolations of Philosophy
Thank you but
not just at the moment

I know you will say
I have said that before
I know you have been
there all along somewhere
in another time zone
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58
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To the Light of September
When you are already here
you appear to be only
a name that tells of you
whether you are present or not

and for now it seems as though
you are still summer
still the high familiar
endless summer
yet with a glint
of bronze in the chill mornings
and the late yellow petals
of the mullein fluttering
on the stalks that lean
over their broken
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61
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