Meet Our New Poet Laureate, W. S. Merwin
W.S. Merwin has recently been named the country’s Poet Laureate, succeeding Kay Ryan. He’s 80-years-old and currently, lives in Hawaii. He attended Princeton University, where he studied with John Berryman and R. P. Blackmur, two high-profile poets in their own right. Later he and his wife became close friends with poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. During the course of his career, Merwin published over 20 books and has garnered numerous awards and critical acclaim.
In the poem below, “The Anniversary of My Death,” Merwin muses about the eventuality of death and then about what may occur in death itself. He passes his eventual death day every year. Then he describes the day of his death as the last day he will see earthly things or feel human emotions like being “Surprised at the earth/And the love of a woman/And the shamelessness of men.” He describes life and the things in it like being “in a strange garment.” It is as though, for the speaker, there is something always a bit foreign and perhaps uncomfortable in life— something always to become accustomed to.
Then after a long rain, a metaphor, perhaps, for the transition between life and death, he bows to the unknown that is death, and, I think the writing, in the poem and the poem itself is a bow or an act of homage to death.
Anyway those are my thoughts. Perhaps you have your own. If so, I’d love to hear them, or read them, as it were.
For the Anniversary of My Death
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