Poetry: W. S. Merwin, 'Green Fields'

originally published February 1995


Audio: Hear W. S. Merwin read this poem. (2:22)

Also by W. S. Merwin:
To a Tortoiseshell Lyre (2003)
To My Teeth (2002)
In the Open (2001)
Unknown Bird (1999)
Term (1999)
Any Time (1999)
Before the Flood (1998)
Shore Birds (1998)
Three Poems (1997)
Three French Poems (1994)



Swimming Up into Poetry, by Peter Davison (August 28, 1997)
The Atlantic's poetry editor reflects on the career of W. S. Merwin.


By this part of the century few are left who believe
     in the animals for they are not there in the carved parts
of them served on plates and the pleas from the slatted trucks
     are sounds of shadows that possess no future
there is still game for the pleasure of killing
     and there are pets for the children but the lives that followed
courses of their own other than ours and older
     have been migrating before us some are already
far on the way and yet Peter with his gaunt cheeks
     and point of white beard the face of an aged Lawrence
Peter who had lived on from another time and country
     and who had seen so many things set out and vanish
still believed in heaven and said he had never once
     doubted it since his childhood on the farm in the days
of the horses he had not doubted it in the worst
     times of the Great War and afterward and he had come
to what he took to be a kind of earthly
     model of it as he wandered south in his sixties
by that time speaking the language well enough
     for them to make him out he took the smallest roads
into a world he thought was a thing of the past
     with wildflowers he scarcely remembered and neighbors
working together scything the morning meadows
     turning the hay before the noon meal bringing it in
by milking time husbandry and abundance
     all the virtues he admired and their reward bounteous
in the eyes of a foreigner and there he remained
     for the rest of his days seeing what he wanted to see
until the winter when he could no longer fork
     the earth in his garden and then he gave away
his house land everything and committed himself
     to a home to die in an old chateau where he lingered
for some time surrounded by those who had lost
     the use of body or mind and as he lay there he told me
that the wall by his bed opened almost every day
     and he saw what was really there and it was eternal life
as he recognized at once when he saw the gardens
     he had made and the green fields where he had been
a child and his mother was standing there then the wall would close
     and around him again were the last days of the world



W. S. Merwin received the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in poetry for The Shadow of Sirius. His many works of poetry and translation include Present Company (2007), Migration: New and Selected Poems (2005), and a version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (2004). He lives in Hawaii.

Presented by

W. S. Merwin received the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in poetry for The Shadow of Sirius. His many works of poetry and translation include Present Company (2007), Migration: New and Selected Poems (2005), and a version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (2004). He lives in Hawaii.

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. Who cares about youth? James Hamblin turns to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg for advice.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. James Hamblin turns to a colleague for advice.

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

Video

Pittsburgh: 'Better Than You Thought'

How Steel City became a bikeable, walkable paradise

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

More in Entertainment

Just In