Book Bits

W.S. Merwin – Variation on a Theme

“I think there’s a kind of desperate hope built into poetry now that one really wants, hopelessly, to save the world.” These were the words of former Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin whose work reflected his lifelong concern and respect for the natural world. Merwin moved to Hawaii in 1977 in order to study Zen Buddhism, and settled there for the subsequent decades of his life. This poem, which is from a later collection called The Moon Before Morning, is a verse of wholehearted gratitude for the vicissitudes of a life viewed in retrospect through hope and hopelessness.


Variation on a Theme

Thank you my lifelong afternoon
late in this season of no age
thank you for my windows above the rivers
thank you for the true love you brought me to
when it was time at last and for words
that come out of silence and take me by surprise
and have carried me through the clear day
without once turning to look at me
thank you for friends and long echoes of them
and for those mistakes that were only mine
for the homesickness that guides the young plovers
from somewhere they loved before
they woke into it to another place
they loved before they ever saw it
thank you whole body and hand and eye
thank you for sights and moments known
only to me who will not see them again
except in my mind’s eye where they have not changed
thank you for showing me the morning stars
and for the dogs who are guiding me


W.S. Merwin (1927-2019)
From: The Moon Before Morning

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