blacktitle.jpg (12329 bytes)

W.S. Merwin--Online Poems


By this part of the century few are left who believe
    in the animals for they are not there in the carved parts
of them served on plates and the pleas from the slatted trucks
    are sounds of shadows that possess no future
there is still game for the pleasure of killing
    and there are pets for the children but the lives that followed
courses of their own other than ours and older
    have been migrating before us some are already
far on the way and yet Peter with his gaunt cheeks
    and point of white beard the face of an aged Lawrence
Peter who had lived on from another time and country
    and who had seen so many things set out and vanish
still believed in heaven and said he had never once
    doubted it since his childhood on the farm in the days
of the horses he had not doubted it in the worst
    times of the Great War and afterward and he had come
to what he took to be a kind of earthly
    model of it as he wandered south in his sixties
by that time speaking the language well enough
    for them to make him out he took the smallest roads
into a world he thought was a thing of the past
    with wildflowers he scarcely remembered and neighbors
working together scything the morning meadows
    turning the hay before the noon meal bringing it in
by milking time husbandry and abundance
    all the virtues he admired and their reward bounteous
in the eyes of a foreigner and there he remained
    for the rest of his days seeing what he wanted to see
until the winter when he could no longer fork
    the earth in his garden and then he gave away
his house land everything and committed himself
    to a home to die in an old chateau where he lingered
for some time surrounded by those who had lost
    the use of body or mind and as he lay there he told me
that the wall by his bed opened almost every day
    and he saw what was really there and it was eternal life
as he recognized at once when he saw the gardens
    he had made and the green fields where he had been
a child and his mother was standing there then the wall would close
    and around him again were the last days of the world

Online Source:


Out of the dry days
through the dusty leaves
far across the valley
those few notes never
heard here before

one fluted phrase
floating over its
wandering secret
all at once wells up
somewhere else

and is gone before it
goes on fallen into
its own echo leaving
a hollow through the air
that is dry as before

where is it from
hardly anyone
seems to have noticed it
so far but who now
would have been listening

it is not native here
that may be the one
thing we are sure of
it came from somewhere
else perhaps alone

so keeps on calling for
no one who is here
hoping to be heard
by another of its own
unlikely origin

trying once more the same few
notes that began the song
of an oriole last heard
years ago in another
existence there

it goes again tell
no one it is here
foreign as we are
who are filling the days
with a sound of our own

Online Source:


At the last minute a word is waiting
not heard that way before and not to be
repeated or ever be remembered
one that always had been a household word
used in speaking of the ordinary
everyday recurrences of living
not newly chosen or long considered
or a matter for comment afterward
who would ever have thought it was the one
saying itself from the beginning through
all its uses and circumstances to
utter at last that meaning of its own
for which it had long been the only word
though it seems now that any word would do

Online Source:


How long ago the day is
when at last I look at it
with the time it has taken
to be there still in it
now in the transparent light
with the flight in the voices
the beginning in the leaves
everything I remember
and before it before me
present at the speed of light
in the distance that I am
who keep reaching out to it
seeing all the time faster
where it has never stirred from
before there is anything
the darkness thinking the light

Online Source:


Why did he promise me
that we would build ourselves
an ark all by ourselves
out in back of the house
on New York Avenue
in Union City New Jersey
to the singing of the streetcars
after the story
of Noah whom nobody
believed about the waters
that would rise over everything
when I told my father
I wanted us to build
an ark of our own there
in the back yard under
the kitchen could we do that
he told me that we could
I want to I said and will we
he promised me that we would
why did he promise that
I wanted us to start then
nobody will believe us
I said that we are building
an ark because the rains
are coming and that was true
nobody ever believed
we would build an ark there
nobody would believe
that the waters were coming

Online Source:

Return to W.S. Merwin