This week’s poem honors the rich legacy of W. S. Merwin. In poems, prose, and palms, Merwin left us opportunities for reflection, growth, and grace. Since 1977, Merwin lived in Maui and began planting a palm a day to restore 19 acres of earth that became the The Merwin Conservancy. The Conservancy website hosts more poems, the story of the land, and how to support, and engage with its ongoing work. Merwin helped design and build his eco-friendly home on this land–powered by the sun, watered by the rain, and sheltered by the palms. He died there on March 15, 2019.
In honor of his memory, from The Second Four Books of Poems (1993), our poem for the week is “For the Anniversary of My Death.” I’ve appreciated Merwin’s dancing grace in this poem for many years. I’m humbled by the title alone. Then comes the deeply introspective look at death when light and sound will change. In the second stanza, the speaker sheds the “strange garment” of life, and the surprises of earth, “And the love of one woman/ And the shamelessness of men.” Merwin then brings readers close to the tangible earth–the rain falling and then ceasing, the wren singing. The poem closes with an opening, an ineffable moment of grace, humility, “bowing not knowing to what.”
The photograph this week is one I took yesterday, in honor of Merwin’s palm planting. It is the towering Canary Island Date Palm growing in our sideyard, a haven to squirrels, orioles, and us.
Thank you, W. S. Merwin, for sharing your words and work with the world.
For the Anniversary of My Death
by W.S. Merwin
Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Like the beam of a lightless star
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what