A Different Kind of Friday . . .

William Stanley Merwin (1927-2019)


“This is how I live
Up here and simply” ~ from “I Live Up Here”
 

I am quite late in acknowledging the passing of a wonderful American poet, so I decided to post this today instead of my usual Friday leftovers.

Poet W. S. Merwin died on the anniversary of my mother’s birthday, March 15, 2019. He was 91. U. S. Poet Laureate from 2010 to 2011, Merwin won numerous awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Book Award in 2005. Merwin was an incredibly prolific writer who published almost three dozen volumes of poetry, essays, short fiction, and memoirs. He was also known for his translations of Dante and Pablo Neruda, as well as other poets. Merwin’s poems, which often dealt thematically with moments in time and passing time, were devoid of punctuation and predominantly spare, though still poignant and powerful. I remember that one of my favorite poems was about the grey whale, “For a Coming Extinction.”

A passionate student and admirer of the natural world, Merwin devoted many years to personal conservation efforts on his former pineapple plantation in Hawaii, on which he planted thousands of palms, as well as numerous other natural species of flora.

But perhaps my favorite bit of trivia about the poet is that he refused to answer the telephone. God, I love that and can completely relate. In case you haven’t heard it from me enough, I hate the telephone, and only use it (when it works) to make and cancel appointments. Otherwise, I ignore it.

For a lovely remembrance of Merwin, see poetry editor Kevin Young’s essay in The New Yorker. Also, you may want to visit The Merwin Conservancy here. Below I am including his 2005 poem about fellow poet John Berryman, under whom he studied at Princeton.


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

just one time he suggested
changing the usual order
of the same words in a line of verse
why point out a thing twice

he suggested I pray to the Muse
get down on my knees and pray
right there in the corner and he
said he meant it literally

it was in the days before the beard
and the drink but he was deep
in tides of his own through which he sailed
chin sideways and head tilted like a tacking sloop

he was far older than the dates allowed for
much older than I was he was in his thirties
he snapped down his nose with an accent
I think he had affected in England

as for publishing he advised me
to paper my wall with rejection slips
his lips and the bones of his long fingers trembled
with the vehemence of his views about poetry

he said the great presence
that permitted everything and transmuted it
in poetry was passion
passion was genius and he praised movement and invention

I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t

you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write

(Found on Poetry Foundation)


Music by Fleurie, “Gloria Regali”

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “A Different Kind of Friday . . .

Leave a Reply to RaVen Sequoia Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.