The poetry world lost a gem last month when W.S. Merwin died at the age of 91 at his home in the aptly named town of Haiku, Maui. He was a Pulitzer Prize winner, a Poet Laureate, and a crusader for the environment. KNAU listener Margaret Erhart feels a kindred connection with him, and in the latest installment of Poetry Friday, she reads Merwin's Before a Departure in Spring, to honor his life - and death.
I have been a hiking guide in Grand Canyon like so many other people who went before me and will come after me. And I’m a writer. I write novels and I write non-fiction. And so, of course, language is a passion of mine. I’m also a Zen Buddhist, as was Merwin, and that interests me about him. He has a great way of describing absence and connection. I love the fact that Merwin decided at some point in his career that punctuation tethered him and tethered his poems. And so he just said, ‘Ok. No more punctuation.” I love that. I love that about his poetry; it moves and it expands. And I think he’s right. Punctuation does tether us. He is an ecologist. He moved to a pineapple plantation and restoried it in Hawaii. And, he just made the big move from life across to death. And I think that’s one reason I really feel strongly about honoring him, especially with this poem.
This poem is called Before a Departure in Spring, and it’s from The River Sound, that’s the title of the book:
Before a Departure in Spring, by W.S. Merwin
Once more it is April with the first light sifting
through the young leaves heavy with dew making the colors
remember who they are the new pink of the cinnamon tree
the gilded lichens of the bamboo the shadowed bronze
of the kamani and the blue day opening
as the sunlight descends through it all like the return
of a spirit touching without touch and unable
to believe it is here and here again and awake
reaching out in silence into the cool breath
of the garden just risen from darkness and days of rain
it is only a moment the birds fly through it calling
to each other and are gone with their few notes and the flash
of their flight that had vanished before we ever knew it
we watch without touching any of it and we
can tell ourselves only that this is April this is the morning
this never happened before and we both remember it
Poetry Friday is produced by KNAU's Gillian Ferris. If you have an idea for a segment, drop her an email at Gillian.Ferris@nau.edu.