Night Singing

By W. S. Merwin b. 1927
Long after Ovid’s story of Philomela
      has gone out of fashion and after the testimonials
of Hafiz and Keats have been smothered in comment
      and droned dead in schools and after Eliot has gone home
from the Sacred Heart and Ransom has spat and consigned
      to human youth what he reduced to fairy numbers
after the name has become slightly embarrassing
      and dried skins have yielded their details and tapes have been
slowed and analyzed and there is nothing at all
      for me to say one nightingale is singing
nearby in the oaks where I can see nothing but darkness
      and can only listen and ride out on the long note’s
invisible beam that wells up and bursts from its
      unknown star on on on never returning
never the same never caught while through the small leaves
      of May the starlight glitters from its own journeys
once in the ancestry of this song my mother visited here
      lightning struck the locomotive in the mountains
it had never happened before and there were so many
      things to tell that she had just seen and would never
have imagined now a field away I hear another
      voice beginning and on the slope there is a third
not echoing but varying after the lives
      after the goodbyes after the faces and the light
after the recognitions and the touching and tears
      those voices go on rising if I knew I would hear
in the last dark that singing I know how I would listen

W. S. Merwin, “Night Singing” from The Vixen. Copyright © 1996 by W. S. Merwin, used with permission of The Wylie Agency LLC.

Source: The Vixen (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996)

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Poet W. S. Merwin b. 1927


Subjects Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Nature, Animals, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets

 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 Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Nature, Animals, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets


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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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