Your absence has gone through me

Like thread through a needle.

Everything I do is stitched with its color.

“Separation” by W. S. Merwin


W.S. Merwin is a major American writer whose poetry, translations, and prose have won praise from literary critics since the publication of his first book. The spare, hard verse comprising the body of Merwin’s work has been characterized by many as very difficult reading. However, it is generally agreed that this poetry is worth whatever extra effort may be required to appreciate it. In a Yale Review article, Laurence Lieberman stated, “This poetry, at its best—and at our best as readers—is able to meet us and engage our wills as never before in the thresholds between waking and sleeping, past and future, self and anti-self, men and gods, the living and the dead.” Although Merwin’s writing has undergone many stylistic changes through the course of his career, it is unified by the recurring theme of man’s separation from nature. The poet sees the consequences of that alienation as disastrous, both for the human race and for the rest of the world.

Merwin, who feels strongly about ecological issues, once commented: “It makes me angry to feel that the natural world is taken to have so little importance.” He gave an example from his own life: “The Pennsylvania that I grew up in and loved as a child isn’t there … it’s been strip-mined: it really is literally not there. This happens to a lot of people, but I don’t see why one has to express indifference about it. It matters … It’s like being told that you can’t possibly be mentally healthy.”

michèle voltaire marcelin

To the Consolations of Philosophy

Thank you but
not just at the moment
I know you will say
I have said that before
I know you have been
there all along somewhere
in another time zone
I studied once
those beautiful instructions
when I was young and
far from here
they seemed distant then
they seem distant now
from everything I remember

I know the design
of the world is beyond
our comprehension
thank you
but grief is selfish and in
the present when
the stars do not seem to move
I was not listening
I know it is not
sensible to expect
fortune to grant her
gifts forever
I know

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