Tag Archives: W.S. Merwin

A Note from the Cimmerians

The Cimmerians have not been heard of for 2600 years, but they are still talked about! How’s that for fame? Granted, I personally only heard about this people group recently, and that through a poem. By making the mystery of “those shapes of antique hearsay” the subject of his exploration in verse, Merwin provoked me to do a little reading about them and to muse on the wonderfulness of the phenomenon, that humans can get very interested in some of our relatives about whom so little is known, or can be known: “questions that we are helpless not to ask.”

It is thought that after the Cimmerians disappeared, they likely settled in Cappadocia. Many things believed about them are inferred from linguistics, such as the Armenian name for Cappadocia, Gamir, which seems to be a version of Cimmer.

A NOTE FROM THE CIMMERIANS

By the time it gets to us
we can make nothing of it
but questions or else it makes
us turn out to be only
questions that we are helpless
not to ask
in the first place
is it real which is to say
is it authentic which is
to say is it from someone
not one of us and if so
how do we know that and where
has it come from what petal
of our compass or from what
age of the orbiting phrase
before us as we say it
in the language we speak now
and for whom was it set down
or to whom is it addressed
now or will it speak later
in another meaning and
is it a question
advancing or receding
from our point of view and are
we to believe they exist
in truth those shapes of antique
hearsay whom no one has seen
by day the Cimmerians
who dwell in utter darkness
it is said or perhaps live
on the other side of it

-W.S. Merwin

cimmerians_map
World of the Cimmerians

Only to a degree expressible.

I’ve shared four poems by W.S. Merwin on my blog over the years. He is a poet who doesn’t use punctuation in his poems. I recently read an interview with him, given five years ago. Here I’m posting a short excerpt in which he talks about his eschewing punctuation, and about the uses and challenges of poetry generally.W.S. Merwin_NewBioImage

If you stop using punctuation, that’s a kind of formality. I mean you have to be very conscious of the grammar and the syntax and how the sentence is put together; otherwise it’ll be just so ambiguous and confusing you just won’t be able to read it. The other thing I think it does is to make the separation between poetry and prose. I thought, punctuation is very convenient, but it was really invented in the seventeenth century for prose. Not for poetry at all. The punctuation of Shakespeare texts is whatever seemed convenient. There weren’t any particular rules that he was following that I can see. I mean it changed in the course of the plays. But above all, I thought that having no punctuation made you listen to the poem. That’s the important thing.
….
Poetry, like the imagination itself, must be limitless. And there must be other ways of expressing the inexpressible, which is what—poetry is just that. Prose is about what can be said and what is known and so on. Poetry is about what cannot be expressed. I mean, terrible grief, or intense erotic feeling, or even unspeakable anger are all inexpressible. You can’t put them in words and that’s why you try to put them in words. Because that’s all you’ve got. That’s another reason why I think that poetry is as ancient as language itself, because I think language must come out of an urge for which there was no expression, no way of doing it. I mean grief or fear or rage or whatever it was. It goes from one roar or one scream or one terrible sound of pain to starting to articulate it. It’s the articulating that becomes poetry. But it doesn’t become information at that point. It’s closer to translation. It’s translating something that’s there, that is only to a degree expressible.

-W.S. Merwin in Guernica magazine interview

Out for a walk.

flowerMonteryThis morning I took Liam (4) and Laddie (2) for a walk in their new neighborhood in Monterey, on California’s Central Coast. It was foggy and cool — it never gets summery hot here — and we enjoyed the flowers in the gardens we passed. This succulent with wild magenta flowers is one I am not familiar with.

We stopped at two different parks with playgrounds, where we pretended the stroller was a train, and I taught them the Hokey Pokey.

Nothing monumental or philosophical happened, but it was very meaningful to me. The last time I took Liam for a walk in a stroller was when Laddie was the new baby. This time the new baby is Brodie and he and his mom were napping at home. I’m grateful to be involved in their daily life for a few days.

Last week I discovered this poem about a walk:

THE PINNACLE

Both of us understood
what a privilege it was
to be out for a walk
with each other
we could tell from our different
heights that this
kind of thing happened
so rarely that it might
not come round again
for me to be allowed
even before I
had started school
to go out for a walk
with Miss Giles
who had just retired
from being a teacher all her life

she was beautiful
in her camel hair coat
that seemed like the autumn leaves
our walk was her idea
we liked listening to each other
her voice was soft and sure
and we went our favorite way
the first time just in case
it was the only time
even though it might be too far
we went all the way
up the Palisades to the place
we called the pinnacle
with its park at the cliff’s edge
overlooking the river
it was already a secret
the pinnacle
as we were walking back
when the time was later
than we had realized
and in fact no one
seemed to know where we had been
even when she told them
no one had heard of the pinnacle

and then where did she go

-W.S. Merwin, from The Shadow of Sirius

I kiss the light.

THE LOVE OF OCTOBER

A child looking at ruins grows younger
but cold
and wants to wake to a new name
I have been younger in October
than in all the months of spring
… walnut and may leaves the color
of shoulders at the end of summer
a month that has been to the mountain
and become light there
the long grass lies pointing uphill
even in death for a reason
that none of us knows
and the wren laughs in the early shade now
come again shining glance in your good time
naked air late morning
my love is for lightness
of touch foot feather
the day is yet one more yellow leaf
and without turning I kiss the light
by an old well on the last of the month
gathering wild rose hips
in the sun.

–W.S. Merwin