September 28, 2017KR OnlinePoetry


From The Kenyon Review, Autumn 1953, Vol. 15, No. 4

I believe at dark solstice in the white moon sailing new,
And in my love, and in her hand, though the green shoot withered,
And in the twice-joining sea between us, and I believe
I lay long with the cold dead, although the word was summer,
The violent dead, and now
When the sun hangs in the low branches
Bleeding, and phoenix-like the white-feathered
Childish sibyl sings in the leaves of the dead year,
And northerly on another island
She smiles into the swirling mist, her trees
Half-sleeved in white, I believe
Resurrection stirs like the robin
Through the waters of the dead, and the buried blood,
Through the rain of two islands
To float like a lotus into the waking year
And stand wide-eyed like a lamb; I believe the dead
Mirrors of the sea shine soft with her new image always.

She is clear amber and the heaven’s face
Seen under simple waters: there below
The lights, the vessels, the shore, the drift-shells stroking
The whipped weeds of the tide-race,
Under the fish flying and the laughter of her dolphins,
First cold, final echoes, and the salt dead, she is marine
And always the child among horses
At autumn by the dove-keep,
And the woman in tears in the green
Drowned wood in no time by the lost house on the slow
River, and always she is ancient as the sea’s daughters,
As the green beginning; always the rites of her tides keen
Tender in my ears, her birds call me fair, her twining hands
Run gentle to my hands for honey, her lips bid me love
Her limbs in coral and the bursts of her dolphins
Always, the softness of her sea-changes
And the pride of her horses.

And there where the spume flies and the mews echoed and beckoned
The bowing drowned, because in her hands love and the one song
Leap and the long faith is born gladly, there through the waters
Of the dead, like the robin, singing, like the floating year,
The deep world in one island,
Streaming white from every dark-folded
Valley, till the green burgeons, and the long
Ghosts dripping leave the washed gold and the mounding joy,
The fruit swaying yellow, the shimmering birches
And the wise beaches lapped with the serpents and dead
Of the forgiving waters,
There, across green the gold light hanging,
The bees in the rosemary, the flashing pigeons,
Bud and harvest together,
The world in one island, because her hands are joy,
To no trumpet, all tongues singing the full silence,
Rises now and forever to gleam new as the white sea.

(Who sings now of the desperate seas, the bleak
Voyages by darkness, when the wind fell,
When the shadow waxed between us, and hails faded
And oar-sounds, when the last streak
Of the other lantern dwindled, and groped wakes one by one
Ended in nothing, when separately we sailed seeking
By the four points and the foreign stars
Falling that may guide no man,
The treasure, the landfall, the morning,
Grey ease after night-fear, after shoal and cold swell
The harbour of one hand? Who sings, after the black whale-beds,
Tideless, and nautilus-marches, of the poles, the towers
Where we came each alone, of the widdershin wheels turning
By blue flames, where we lay dead in the grave’s waters, though all
The world was summer? For the seven seas are one,
The four winds, and all journey and treasures
And islands, and the sung stars.)

Here is the gate of psalms, swordless, and the angel’s country
For which we became as children; known earth and known heaven
Washed new in the ancient wonder; here in the high pastures,
Its roots in another story, offering innocence
Like apples, is the same tree;
Under the leaves and holy shadows
The same brightness springs where the stones begin
Laughter and green singing in the ancient rivers
And the new hours like the first shallows run;
There beyond pools and sheep-bells where the dark browses
Already the gold pastures,
Are hushed grass and the bell of silence,
The silk grey dusk, the mackerel-sky for the moonrise,
Then the same moon riding new
Over the fields, the lulled falling of four rivers
And the praising hills and white leaves of paradise,
And swimming silver across her eyes and in the same sea.

Nightingales will sleep in the sycamores
Till there is no night; here will not the dark
Worm come with his sliding season, though the leaves fall,
Nor the snake in the small hours
Molest the young doves and thrushes with the snare of his hands
Nor sicken the drowsing fruit with the shadow of his tongue,
Nor chains nor temptations, till the end
Of time, nor any serpent,
Save the long tides, till the sea return.
She is clear amber, and the dawn found in the dark
By faith at last, by following sea-sounds, by the lost
Shells’ singing, and like the sea she walks always beside me
Telling, and the warm deeps of her waters are never sung
Where, amid fathomless musics subtle beneath voices,
Softly she draws me down with her whispers and hands,
Her floods and eyes, face to face, telling me
Her white love, world without end.

Now, now I enter the first garden and the promised moon,
The silver of her thighs and shoulders; oh here where the sheaves
And shadows sway to her breath, in the carolling darkness
We embrace at last, and are night and morning together
And the grey-gold afternoon
Of marvels sinking over the hill
And the first and last tree; and all the leaves
Of our deaths are chanting, “Holy, holy, holy
Always were taper-light and ember-light,
Moon-light, the bowing stars, and that first glory still
Singing day from the darkness;
And never, save unto our amen
Shall the white sea surrender its dead, oh never,
Oh never. Amen. Amen.”
We listen, and shall here, love, with the sea’s holy
Song in the shells of our ears, lie down forever
To sleep in the turning garden for as long as the sea.

W. S. Merwin was appointed United States Poet Laureate by the Librarian of Congress in July 2010. He lives, writes, and gardens in Hawaii, on the island of Maui. He has spent the last thirty years planting nineteen acres with over eight hundred species of palm, creating a sustainable forest. The property has recently been turned into a conservancy, the Merwin Conservancy.