April is…poetry month: W.S. Merwin

Poetry and I have never really seen eye to eye. It’s not that I didn’t like it, but I thought it didn’t like me. Poet laureate W.S. Merwin says, “People say they don’t read poetry because they don’t understand it. But you don’t start by understanding it; you begin by physically responding to it. You’re hearing something. You’re moved.”

As with prose, I find I’m not moved by poetry that uses so much flowery imagery that I feel like I’m wading through a jar of honey. Or when every word is so thick with innuendo and double entendre that you can’t see your way through to the end. Or when it’s so completely depressing you want to off yourself. But recently a friend has introduced me to some poets who write about everyday experiences and remind me about the beauty in those things.

So during April, I thought I’d spread a bit of poetry love. Maybe some of these poems will speak to you as they do to me. Let’s kick things off with Merwin. You writers out there will enjoy this one.


Sitting over words

very late I have heard a kind of whispered sighing

not far

like a night wind in pines or like the sea in the dark

the echo of everything that has ever

been spoken

still spinning its one syllable

between the earth and silence


~W.S. Merwin

Is there a poem that really speaks to you? Which one? Why?  


image from Oprah.com




  1. for some reason, I really love this one. i can’t explain.

    Understand, I’ll slip quietly
    away from the noisy crowd
    when I see the pale
    stars rising, blooming, over the oaks.

    I’ll pursue solitary pathways
    through the pale twilit meadows,
    with only this one dream:
    You come too.

    Rainer Maria Rilke


  2. What a breathtaking poem. I think Merwin is right–poetry is definitely about that physical response.

    Here’s one of my favorites, but that may be because it shares a title and major themes with my favorite Kurt Vonnegut novel:


    This door you might not open, and you did;
    So enter now, and see for what slight thing
    You are betrayed… Here is no treasure hid,
    No cauldron, no clear crystal mirroring
    The sought-for truth, no heads of women slain
    For greed like yours, no writhings of distress,
    But only what you see… Look yet again—
    An empty room, cobwebbed and comfortless.
    Yet this alone out of my life I kept
    Unto myself, lest any know me quite;
    And you did so profane me when you crept
    Unto the threshold of this room to-night
    That I must never more behold your face.
    This now is yours. I seek another place.

    ~ Edna St. Vincent Millay


    1. Wow! That one is so powerful. I had to read it a few times because it just hit me on several levels.

      Until now, I’d only read her poem “What My Lips Have Kissed.”

      Thanks so much for sharing this, Maura.


  3. The Merwin poem is wonderful.

    I’m a big fan of St. Vincent Millay too. This one is sad, but so beautiful….


    I know what my heart is like
    Since your love died:
    It is like a hollow ledge
    Holding a little pool
    Left there by the tide,
    A little tepid pool,
    Drying inward from the edge.

    Edna St. Vincent Millay


    1. I love the repetition of the word pool. She so perfectly captures the loss and sadness. Thanks for exposing me to more Edna St. Vincent Millay. I hadn’t read this one before either.


  4. I really like the Merwin quote about poetry–I like poems that have interesting ideas, play with words and make me think (but not necessarily understand), like this one:

    My life closed twice before its close
    It yet remains to see
    If immortality unveil
    A third event to me

    So huge, so hopeless to conceive
    As these that twice befell
    Parting is all we know of heaven
    And all we need of hell.

    –Emily Dickenson


    1. This poem by Dickenson is so lovely Thomas. Amazing, but it wasn’t until I’d read that Merwin quote that I realized I don’t have to dissect each line of a poem. Then I started being able to enjoy reading a poem on a gut level.


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