Poetry: Berryman by W.S. Merwin

interview with W.S. Merwin: “Learning your own language”


Here’s another favorite poem by U.S. poet Laureate, W.S. Merwin.

Berryman, by W. S. Merwin

I will tell you what he told me
in the years just after the war
as we then called
the second world war

don’t lose your arrogance yet he said
you can do that when you’re older
lose it too soon and you may
merely replace it with vanity

just one time he suggested
changing the usual order
of the same words in a line of verse
why point out a thing twice

he suggested I pray to the Muse
get down on my knees and pray
right there in the corner and he
said he meant it literally

it was in the days before the beard
and the drink but he was deep
in tides of his own through which he sailed
chin sideways and head tilted like a tacking sloop

he was far older than the dates allowed for
much older than I was he was in his thirties
he snapped down his nose with an accent
I think he had affected in England

as for publishing he advised me
to paper my wall with rejection slips
his lips and the bones of his long fingers trembled
with the vehemence of his views about poetry

he said the great presence
that permitted everything and transmuted it
in poetry was passion
passion was genius and he praised movement and invention

I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t

you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write

from Flower & Hand (Copper Canyon Press).

William Stanley Merwin, was born in New York City in September 1927.

Merwin’s mother had grown up an orphan, and later lost her brother and her first child; Merwin’s father was raised in a hard and violent home. The grief from these tragedies, the inherited violence, and the surrounding poverty, run throughout Merwin’s poetry, across a career that spans five decades.

Click here for more W.S. Merwin poems on my blog

About dearrosie

We think we need so much, when all we really need is time to breathe. Come walk with me, put one foot in front of the other, and get to know yourself. Please click the link to my blog - below - and leave me a comment. I love visitors.
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8 Responses to Poetry: Berryman by W.S. Merwin

  1. shoreacres says:

    Oh my, oh my, oh me, oh my….

    This is a wonderfully reassuring video and an even more reassuring poem, which I most assuredly will do something with in my own blog, someday, some way.

    There are times, as when I finished my current post, that I consider the amount of time I spent working and reworking the words and think: “I should have been cleaning. I should have been working. I should have been this or that…” And then there’s Merwin, saying, “You never can be sure…”

    And there you have it: the germ of a blog entry. You saw it here first, and I thank you for that!

    • dearrosie says:

      Dear Shoreacres,
      Thank you for stopping by and for taking the time to write a comment. I’m glad that someone else likes the poem.

      The interesting thing with blogs is we spend so much time writing and re-writing, even though we don’t know whether anyone’s even going to read our words, and if they do, most of our readers are anonymous so we’re really writing for ourselves aren’t we?

      I look forward to seeing what you’re going to do with the germ started here…

  2. Dinah says:

    I liked this so much, I posted it to my facebook page. Loved the story of the wonderful mom with her darling son Boo, too! Thanks for your great blog, Rosie!!

  3. lovely, lovely, LOVELY!
    Rosie, have you read any of Raymond Carver’s poems?
    Where Water Comes Together With Other Water is one of my favorite books ever! thanks for sharing!!!

    • dearrosie says:

      Admission (1) I haven’t read anything by Raymond Carver, and (2) I didn’t know he wrote poetry. I believe you and I like similar poetry so if “Where Water Comes Together With Other Water” is one of your favorite books ever, I’m going to go get a copy of it. Thanks Betty.

  4. Pingback: Poetry: “What The Doctor Said” by Raymond Carver | Wondering Rose

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