Tag Archives: W.S. Merwin

Lament for a Stone


The bay where I found you faced the long light
of the west glowing under the cold sky

there Columba as the story goes looked
back and could not see Ireland any more

therefore he could stay he made up his mind
in that slur of the sea on the shingle

shaped in a fan around the broad crescent
formed all of green pebbles found nowhere else

flecked with red held in blue depths and polished
smooth as water by rolling like water

along each other rocking as they were
rocking at his feet it is said that they

are proof against drowning and I saw you
had the shape of the long heart of a bird

and when I took you in my palm we flew
through the years hearing them rush under us

where have you flown now leaving me to hear
that sound along without you in my hand

W.S. Merwin

St. Columba's Bay Iona
St. Columba’s Bay, Iona


Bowing not knowing to what.

W.S. Merwin published this contemplation of his death in 1963. He died March 15, 2019.


Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
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

~ W. S. Merwin

He thought there was time.


For some time I thought there was time
and that there would always be time
for what I had a mind to do
and what I could imagine
going back to and finding it
as I had found it the first time
but by this time I do not know
what I thought when I thought back then

there is no time yet it grows less
there is the sound of rain at night
arriving unknown in the leaves
once without before or after
then I hear the thrush waking
at daybreak singing the new song

–W.S. Merwin

In Ephesians 5 we are told to redeem the time: See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.”

That admonition comes to mind as I read this poem  in the New Yorker. It’s by W.S. Merwin, whom I mentioned previously here and here in regard to his book The Folding Cliffs, which captivated me and gave me for the first time an interest in visiting Hawaii.

Willow flowers fading, and leaves emerging.

To me it speaks of how we can only make up for lost time by being attentive to the gifts that are coming to us right now, attentive to the presence of God. He is giving Himself in the present moment, and He has given us the lenten season to help us tune into that Reality, to come back to it and to Him.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The paragraphs above are from the first time I posted this poem on my blog. As I read Merwin’s meditation now, I find another layer of meaning, which explains the joyful last line. It’s in the words, “there is no time yet it grows less.”

We probably all feel that there is less time in the sense of opportunity to accomplish more things before it “runs out.” But chronologically we don’t get to “no time” until we are long past being able to compose verse about it. Merwin must be referring to the moments of “no time” in the sense of timelessness, such as when he listens to the rain, or hears the thrush, and experiences that fullness of heart that comes with the awareness of the gift of being. “Here I am, alive, and it’s raining!”

It’s still a good poem for Lent. This is when we try to make some space in our busy schedules for that time out of time, and listening for the new song.

(Re-post from 2012)


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.


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

World of the Cimmerians