The death of poet W.S. Merwin (September 30, 1927 – March 15, 2019) has taken another creative and compelling voice from our world.
Pulitzer Prize winner, seventeenth Poet Laureate of the United States, and author of over fifty books of verse, his changing style and changing commitments have been among the most interesting in American writing. Increasing attention to the natural world, combined with his practical transformation of a failed Hawaiian pineapple plantation into one of the greatest collection of palms known to exist, shaped both his verse and his life.
In the late 1970’s, Merwin began a nearly 40-year journey toward redevelopment of his land. As described by the Merwin Conservancy:
The palm collection, set on nineteen acres on Maui’s north shores, boasts nearly 3,000 individual palm trees, representing over 400 taxonomic species, more than 125 unique genera, and 800 different horticultural varieties. According to experts at the National Tropical Botanical Gardens, the collection is “a living treasure house of palm DNA.” This significant botanical and horticultural assemblage is now preserved forever through a deed of conservation easement held by the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust.
Impressive as his work with the palms surely was, his reflections on that work are equally important. As he reminds us:
One can’t live only in despair and anger without eventually destroying the thing one is angry in defense of. The world is still here, and there are aspects of human life that are not purely destructive, and there is a need to pay attention to the things around us while they are still around us. And you know, in a way, if you don’t pay that attention, the anger is just bitterness.
Just as “Wild Geese” became one of her most reprinted poems after Mary Oliver’s death, Merwin’s “For The Anniversary of My Death” is appearing everywhere. Appropriate as it surely is, I prefer to remember him by these words, even as I imagine him wandering among the morning palms, and happy.
Now in the blessed days of more and less
when the news about time is that each day
there is less of it I know none of that
as I walk out through the early garden
only the day and I are here with no
before or after and the dew looks up
without a number or a present age
“Dew Light” ~ W.S. Merwin
Comments always are welcome.
For more information on Gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris), please click here.
For biographical details about W.S. Merwin, this Poetry Foundation article is useful.