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Air by W.S. Merwin

Glenn Gould is playing Bach’s Concerto in D Minor, BWV 974, II Adagio. It is almost two in the morning. It is November. The house is quiet. What have I lost, so I can be here now, in this moment? What did I leave behind?

W.S. Merwin

Naturally it is night.
Under the overturned lute with its
One string I am going my way
Which has a strange sound.

This way the dust, that way the dust.
I listen to both sides
But I keep right on.
I remember the leaves sitting in judgment
And then winter.

I remember the rain with its bundle of roads.
The rain taking all its roads.

Young as I am, old as I am,

I forget tomorrow, the blind man.
I forget the life among the buried windows.
The eyes in the curtains.
The wall
Growing through the immortelles.
I forget silence
The owner of the smile.

This must be what I wanted to be doing,
Walking at night between the two deserts,

From Naked Poetry: Recent American Poetry in Open Forms, edited by Stephen Berg and Robert Mezey, published by The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1969.

Comments (4)

  • I dont get this poem. Should I try to figure it out? I rarely ever read a poem more then twice, if I dont get it. I read this twice, and wonder, who is he talking to? How many people would read this poem more then once. Poetry confuses me.

    • Fiza

      Same! I don’t get the poem and i showed to my teacher and she didn’t get it either.

  • William Kelly

    Oh I see, it goes through you first, so I assume your posting it later. That would be weird if you were censoring sincerity. I was simply fishing for an explanation as to how that poem, and so many that I just dont get, is worth my struggling to derive something out of it. Why is so much poetry so inaccessible. It a very very valid question in our time. Poetry is evaporating so quickly, its just about gone. Most people very rarely, if ever, read a poem, and I can understand that. I’m wondering if Im just stupid, or is the form outdated, or if it is written for a very elite group, or a little of it all.

  • I love this poem, Merwin’s mood creation, and I love your addition–“What have I lost, so I can be here now, in this moment? What did I leave behind?”

    To those struggling with the poem’s meaning: perhaps approach the poem differently. Read it without asking what it means. Pay attention to the tone and the surprise, the oddities. Focus on the parts that click. Let go of the notion that in order to enjoy a poem you must understand it.

    The poem is called “Air”–how does that inform each stanza? I find that air flows through each. Imagine the air, soft, playing a role throughout. Air guiding the dust, the rain, the wind, carrying the song.

    The poem isn’t a puzzle. It’s alive, breathing.

    Thank you for sharing!


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