Monday, November 20, 2006


When I was in my 20's, one of my favorite books of poetry was Pablo Neruda's Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. One of the things I loved most about it was that the poetry remained beautiful in spite of the fact that I could only read it in translation. So often, translations are stilted and clumsy, never capturing the feel of the original. While I still have not learned to read Portuguese, I do still appreciate the translation.

Oddly enough, despite my infatuation with the book, it never occurred to me at the time to learn anything about its translator. Then, a few weeks ago, I ran into a poem by W.S. Merwin in a program. The poem was called "To Waiting". It somehow neatly managed to insert itself into the middle of thoughts I'd already been harboring, so I saved it, tucking it into my purse for later googling of its author on some rainy afternoon.

And what did I find? I found that I really like Merwin's poetry. Furthermore, not only is he a Pulitzer prize winning poet and translator, but he was responsible for a translation that has given me hours of enjoyment, inspiration and material for reflection. I wrote one of my first poems after reading a Merwin translation of Neruda. It is, in the grand tradition of all my poetry, not very good, but still liberating to write. I can write a poem, then go back to my prose and think "well, perhaps poetry is not my forte, but this other stuff, it's not so bad".

Of course, not everything one writes is going to be good. It's somehow comforting to hear that, even from someone with Merwin's skills. In an interview with Artful Dodge he said:

I think that the sitting down and trying to write is terribly important, the regularity with which one works. If you do try to write regularly, you will notice that the results are irregular. There are times when you just can't stop writing. Everything contributes to it. I suspect that everything is contributing to it all the time but there are long periods when it seems very hard to put words together that are at all satisfactory, that are doing what you want them to do. These things come in waves or cycles.

It's good advice, and while waiting for a new cycle to begin, one can always read his poetry.

"To Waiting" by W.S. Merwin
You spend so much of your time
expecting to become
someone else
always someone
who will be different
someone to whom a moment
whatever moment it may be
at last has come
and who has been
met and transformed
into no longer being you
and so has forgotten you

meanwhile in your life
you hardly notice
the world around you
lights changing
sirens dying along the buildings
your eyes intent
on a sight you do not yet see
not yet there
as long as you
are only yourself

with whom as you
recall you were
never happy
to be left alone for long

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