remembering W.S. Merwin

MerwinI’ve been absent from this space for about a month now. Lots of good, necessary upheaval in my life. The recent passing of W.S. Merwin has stirred me out of silence, however, not just here but in life. His work always inspires a kind of active silence in me, a listening that’s helped on and off the page.

I have written about Merwin’s work a number of times here. In a previous post I shared these words from a journal entry where I had copied by hand Merwin’s “A Letter to Su T’ung Po”:

I heard Merwin read this poem a week after filing for divorce from my first marriage. Ani was with me , both of us full of questions. This poem is a river in itself. The last line crosses centuries in a gasp, like one stepping away from the face of a river.

Similar to when I wrote these words, my life’s been carried forward on necessary currents – all of which is a fancy way of saying that I’ve accepted an Assistant Professor position at Suffolk University. This new job also has me taking on the role of Editor-in-Chief of Salamander Magazine. Needless to say, I’m shocked at my good fortune and grateful for the opportunity to join the dynamic community at Suffolk and contribute on a number of levels.

As can be imagined, a move like this is bittersweet. I do find myself in a similar place as when I was filing for a divorce, and when I saw Merwin in person. However turbulent life was for me then, hearing Merwin do his thing – his nuanced, metaphysically and emotionally complex thing – afforded me some calm. His example, then and now, braces me for the good work ahead.

While I have written about the poem below before, the poem remains a favorite. I also share it because it’s the poem I had in mind while I taught during the teaching portion of my campus visit at Suffolk and I made a passing reference to writing in syllabics and the path forged by Merwin. Looking at this poem now and considering his passing, I’m moved by how the lack of punctuation has me as a reader coming closer to the page. That in itself, bringing another closer to language, is an accomplishment in itself.

Thank you, Merwin, for bringing us closer to words.

Youth – W.S. Merwin

Through all of youth I was looking for you
without knowing what I was looking for

or what to call you I think I did not
even know I was looking how would I

have known you when I saw you as I did
time after time when you appeared to me

as you did naked offering yourself
entirely at that moment and you let

me breathe you touch you taste you knowing
no more than I did and only when I

began to think of losing you did I
recognize you when you were already

part memory part distance remaining
mine in the ways that I learn to miss you

from what we cannot hold the stars are made


from The Shadow of Sirius (Copper Canyon Press, 2009)

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