Small Woman on Swallow Street

By W. S. Merwin b. 1927
Four feet up, under the bruise-blue
Fingered hat-felt, the eyes begin. The sly brim   
Slips over the sky, street after street, and nobody   
Knows, to stop it. It will cover
The whole world, if there is time. Fifty years’   
Start in gray the eyes have; you will never   
Catch up to where they are, too clever   
And always walking, the legs not long but   
The boots big with wide smiles of darkness   
Going round and round at their tops, climbing.   
They are almost to the knees already, where   
There should have been ankles to stop them.   
So must keep walking all the time, hurry, for   
The black sea is down where the toes are   
And swallows and swallows all. A big coat
Can help save you. But eyes push you down; never   
Meet eyes. There are hands in hands, and love   
Follows its furs into shut doors; who
Shall be killed first? Do not look up there:
The wind is blowing the building-tops, and a hand   
Is sneaking the whole sky another way, but   
It will not escape. Do not look up. God is   
On High. He can see you. You will die.

W. S. Merwin, “Small Woman on Swallow Street” from The First Four Books of Poems (Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 2000). Copyright © 2000 by W. S. Merwin. Reprinted with the permission of The Wylie Agency, Inc.

Source: Poetry (March 1957).


This poem originally appeared in the March 1957 issue of Poetry magazine

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March 1957
 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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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Growing Old, Death, The Body, Living, Nature


Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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