Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Anything by W.S. Merwin is worth reading, not only the poetry but the essays and prose, the translations. I certainly haven't read everything but my favorite of all that I know is The Rain in the Trees. I consider it a perfect book. Every poem is stunning.

I first read "Kanaloa" in The New Yorker and remember everything about the experience — exactly where I was sitting in my Sarasota garage apartment — the light and temperature and time of day and most of all, what it did to my mind. I wanted more and set myself to find the book as soon as it was published. Remember finding books of poetry before Amazon came on the scene? Before Borders? In a lot of ways, it was really more fun at small, independent booksellers. A topic for another day.

I love many things about Merwin's work but in the Rain in the Trees, almost more than anything, it's his perspective that gets me. For example, he has an uncanny ability to describe a future scenario from a scenario farther in the future.

I had the fortune of attending a reading Merwin gave at MIT in the early '90s where he read William Stafford's Traveling Through the Dark. I had him autograph a copy of, you guessed it, The Rain in the Trees. (Naturally, of my several copies of the book, that's the one with the water stains!)

I found a good article on Merwin in an old New York Times book section. Oh, and isn't this interesting? W.S. Merwin and my mother share the same birthday, September 30th.


When he woke his mind was the west
and he could not remember waking

wherever he looked the sun was coming toward him
the moon was coming toward him

month after month the wind was coming toward him
behind the day the night was coming toward him

all the stars all the comets all the depth of the sea
all the darkness in the earth all the silence all the cold

all the heights were coming toward him
no one had been on earth before him

all the stories were coming toward him
over the mountain

over the red water the black water
the moonlight

he had imagined the first mistake
all the humans are coming toward him with numbers

they are coming from the beginning to look for him
each of them finds him and he is different

they do not believe him at first
but he houses the ghosts of the trees

the ghosts of the animals
of the whales and the insects

he rises in dust he is burning he is smoke
behind him is nothing

he is the one who is already gone
he is fire flowing downward over the edge

he is the last he is the coming home
he might never have wakened

W. S. Merwin, “Kanaloa” from The Rain in the Trees (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988). Copyright © 1988 by W. S. Merwin

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