Native Trees

By W. S. Merwin b. 1927
Neither my father nor my mother knew   
the names of the trees   
where I was born
what is that
I asked and my
father and mother did not
hear they did not look where I pointed   
surfaces of furniture held   
the attention of their fingers   
and across the room they could watch
walls they had forgotten   
where there were no questions   
no voices and no shade

Were there trees
where they were children   
where I had not been   
I asked
were there trees in those places
where my father and my mother were born   
and in that time did
my father and my mother see them
and when they said yes it meant
they did not remember
What were they I asked what were they   
but both my father and my mother
said they never knew

W. S. Merwin, “Native Trees” from The Rain in the Trees (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988). Copyright © 1988 by W. S. Merwin. Reprinted with the permission of The Wylie Agency, Inc.

Source: The Rain in the Trees (Alfred A. Knopf, 1988)

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Poet W. S. Merwin b. 1927

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Trees & Flowers, Youth, Living, Relationships, 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 Family & Ancestors, Trees & Flowers, Youth, Living, Relationships, Nature

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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