The Burnt Child

By W. S. Merwin b. 1927
Matches among other things that were not allowed   
never would be
lying high in a cool blue box
that opened in other hands and there they all were   
bodies clean and smooth blue heads white crowns   
white sandpaper on the sides of the box scoring   
fire after fire gone before

I could hear the scratch and flare   
when they were over
and catch the smell of the striking
I knew what the match would feel like   
lighting
when I was very young

a fire engine came and parked
in the shadow of the big poplar tree
on Fourth Street one night
keeping its engine running
pumping oxygen to the old woman
in the basement
when she died the red lights went on burning

W. S. Merwin, “The Burnt Child” from Flower & Hand: Poems 1977-1983 (Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 1997). Copyright © 1997 by W. S. Merwin. Reprinted with the permission of The Wylie Agency, Inc.

Source: Opening the Hand (Copper Canyon Press, 1983)

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Poet W. S. Merwin b. 1927

Subjects Youth, Living

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 W. S. Merwin

Biography

W.S. Merwin is a major American writer whose poetry, translations, and prose have won praise since W.H. Auden awarded his first book, A Mask for Janus (1952), 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 mature style as “his own kind of free . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Youth, Living

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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