W. S. Merwin: Twelve Poems

Audio: Hear W. S. Merwin read this poem (2:20)

Vehicles (1994)
The Speed of Light (1994)
End of a Day (1994)
Green Fields (1995)
Another River (1997)
Echoing Light (1997)
Remembering (1997)
Shore Birds (1998)
Before the Flood (1998)
Unknown Bird (1999)
Any Time (1999)
Term (1999)

Also see:
Swimming Up Into Poetry
The Atlantic's longtime poetry editor reflects on the career of W. S. Merwin, whose long association with the magazine spans great distances of geography and art (August 1997)

Green Fields (1995)

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

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.

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