What We See Is Never What We Touch

W. S. Merwin

“On the last day of the world I would want to plant a tree.”

W. S. Merwin

The Wings of Daylight

by W. S. Merwin

Brightness appears showing us everything
it reveals the splendors it calls everything
but shows it to each of us alone
and only once and only to look at
not to touch or hold in our shadows
what we see is never what we touch
what we take turns out to be something else
what we see that one time departs untouched
while other shadows gather around us
the world’s shadows mingle with our own
we had forgotten them but they know us
they remember us as we always were
they were at home here before the first came
everything will leave us except the shadows
but the shadows carry the whole story
at first daybreak they open their long wings

William Stanley Merwin lived in solitude in Hawaii, living a life of poetry since 1971, reportedly steadfastly refusing to answer the telephone.  God bless him for rejecting technology as an unnecessary interference. His poetry spoke with a clarity of a connection to nature and the whim that nature imparts between beauty and tragedy. Merwin’s style can be a bit opaque at times, but I like my poetry on the side of the mystics. I don’t believe that poets should be forced to spell out all their secrets or scribble them down in proper grammar and punctuation, we’ll leave that to novelists and journalists.

A sense of astonishment runs through much of Merwin’s work. It feels genuine and not forced.  Astonishment in the force of nature’s beauty, astonishment in love, astonishment in the good fortune that was his life.  It is infecticious if you let it.

I have been in a state of astonishment lately.  Astonished at the ability of life to change in an instant for the good. Astonishment in the beginnings of a new relationship. Astonishment in the sudden undaunted optimism for the future.  I hope to surf that astonishment as a wave as I grow younger by the day, by the year, by the decade….

One of the Lives

by W. S. Merwin

If I had not met the red-haired boy whose father
.                          .  had broken a leg parachuting into Provence
to join the resistance in the final stage of the war
.                           .  and so had been killed there as the Germans were moving north
out of  Italy and if the friend who was with him
.                           . as he was dying had not had an elder brother
who also died young quite differently in peacetime
.                            . leaving two children one of them with bad health
who had been kept out of school for a whole year by an illness
.                             . and if I had written anything else at the top
of the examination form where it said college
.                             . of your choice or if the questions that day had been
put differently and if a young woman in Kittanning
.                             . had not taught my father to drive at the age of twenty
so that he got the job with the pastor of the big church
.                             . in Pittsburgh where my mother was working and if
I would not have found myself on an iron cot
.                             . with my head by the fireplace of a stone farmhouse
that had stood empty since some time before I was born
.                            . I would not have travelled so far to lie shivering
with fever though I was wrapped in everything in the house
.                            . nor have watched the unctuous doctor hold up his needle
at the window in the rain light of October
.                            . I would not have seen through the cracked pane the darkening
valley with its river sliding past the amber mountains
.                            . nor have wakened hearing plums fall in the small hour
thinking I knew where I was as I heard them fall.


Published by

A Sonnet Obsession

I am a life-long Minnesotan who resides in Minneapolis. I hope you enjoy my curated selection of sonnets, short poems and nerdy ruminations. I am pleased to offer Fourteenlines as an ad and cookie free poetry resource, to allow the poetry to be presented on its own without distractions. Fourteenlines is a testament to the power of the written word, for anyone wanting a little more poetry in their life.

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