Hearing

By W. S. Merwin b. 1927
Back when it took all day to come up
from the curving broad ponds on the plains
where the green-winged jaçanas ran on the lily pads

easing past tracks at the mouths of gorges
crossing villages silted in hollows
in the foothills
each with its lime-washed church by the baked square   
of red earth and its
talkers eating fruit under trees

turning a corner and catching
sight at last of inky forests far above
steep as faces
with the clouds stroking them and the glimmering   
airy valleys opening out of them

waterfalls still roared from the folds   
of the mountain
white and thundering and spray drifted   
around us swirling into the broad leaves   
and the waiting boughs

once I took a tin cup and climbed
the sluiced rocks and mossy branches beside   
one of the high falls
looking up step by step into
the green sky from which rain was falling
when I looked back from a ledge there were only   
dripping leaves below me
and flowers

beside me the hissing
cataract plunged into the trees
holding on I moved closer
left foot on a rock in the water
right foot on a rock in deeper water   
at the edge of the fall
then from under the weight of my right foot   
came a voice like a small bell singing   
over and over one clear treble   
syllable

I could feel it move
I could feel it ring in my foot in my skin   
everywhere
in my ears in my hair
I could feel it in my tongue and in the hand   
holding the cup
as long as I stood there it went on
without changing

when I moved the cup
still it went on
when I filled the cup
in the falling column
still it went on
when I drank it rang in my eyes
through the thunder curtain

when I filled the cup again   
when I raised my foot   
still it went on
and all the way down   
from wet rock to wet rock   
green branch to green branch
it came with me

until I stood
looking up and we drank
the light water
and when we went on we could
still hear the sound
as far as the next turn on the way over

W. S. Merwin, “Hearing” 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 Trees & Flowers, Animals, Travels & Journeys, Activities, Nature

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 Trees & Flowers, Animals, Travels & Journeys, Activities, Nature

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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