By W. S. Merwin b. 1927
Here comes the shadow not looking where it is going,   
And the whole night will fall; it is time.
Here comes the little wind which the hour
Drags with it everywhere like an empty wagon through leaves.   
Here comes my ignorance shuffling after them
Asking them what they are doing.

Standing still, I can hear my footsteps   
Come up behind me and go on
Ahead of me and come up behind me and
With different keys clinking in the pockets,
And still I do not move. Here comes
The white-haired thistle seed stumbling past through the branches   
Like a paper lantern carried by a blind man.
I believe it is the lost wisdom of my grandfather
Whose ways were his own and who died before I could ask.

Forerunner, I would like to say, silent pilot,   
Little dry death, future,
Your indirections are as strange to me
As my own. I know so little that anything   
You might tell me would be a revelation.

Sir, I would like to say,
It is hard to think of the good woman   
Presenting you with children, like cakes,   
Granting you the eye of her needle,   
Standing in doorways, flinging after you   
Little endearments, like rocks, or her silence   
Like a whole Sunday of bells. Instead, tell me:   
Which of my many incomprehensions
Did you bequeath me, and where did they take you? Standing
In the shoes of indecision, I hear them   
Come up behind me and go on ahead of me
Wearing boots, on crutches, barefoot, they could never
Get together on any door-sill or destination—
The one with the assortment of smiles, the one   
Jailed in himself like a forest, the one who comes
Back at evening drunk with despair and turns
Into the wrong night as though he owned it—oh small
Deaf disappearance in the dusk, in which of their shoes
Will I find myself tomorrow?

W. S. Merwin, “Sire” from The Second Four Books of Poems (Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 1993). Copyright © 1993 by W. S. Merwin. Reprinted with the permission of The Wylie Agency, Inc.

Source: The Second Four Books of Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1993)

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Poet W. S. Merwin b. 1927


Subjects Family & Ancestors, Death, Living, Relationships

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 W. S. Merwin


W.S. Merwin is a prolific, leading American writer whose poetry, translations, and prose have won praise over seven decades. His first book, A Mask for Janus (1952),  was chosen by W.H. Auden for the Yale Younger Poets Prize. Though that first book reflected the formalism of the period, Merwin eventually became known for an impersonal, open style that eschewed punctuation. Writing in the Guardian, Jay Parini described Merwin’s . . .

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SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Death, Living, Relationships


Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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