“Would I love it this way”: W.S. Merwin’s “The Morning”

Merwin's Garden Time photo by Carolyn OliverThis week I’ve been reading W. S. Merwin’s new book, Garden Time. It’s beautiful and calm and melancholy,  just what I needed this week. Mr. Merwin is 89, and losing his eyesight; I read that these poems were dictated to his wife, Paula.

He’s one of this country’s most prolific writers; I think I first read his work when I was in high school (his translation of Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair) and then again a few years later with his introduction to a volume of selected poems by Thomas Wyatt. Mr. Merwin’s own poem “Berryman” is one of my favorites, one of my writerly touchstones.

Anyway, “The Morning,” the poem that opens Garden Time, is worth the price of admission. I love it, and its phrases have been flitting in my mind for days. I hope you’ll love it too.

What are you reading this week?

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“to paper my wall with rejection slips”: W.S. Merwin’s “Berryman”

Photo by Viktor Jakovlev via Unsplash

Photo by Viktor Jakovlev via Unsplash

I don’t write much about my non-blog, non-job-related writing for a variety of reasons. One is that there’s precious little time for that writing, so writing about it seems like a waste of that time. Another is that I get a great many rejections. Six in a week? Been there.Three in one day? Yep. Two rejections (from different magazines) in two minutes? Yes, it’s possible.

This is, as you might suspect, discouraging.

Plenty of articles, lists, and even whole magazines are dedicated to encouraging and advising writers, both new and seasoned, in the face of almost certain rejection. I sample these prescriptions for perseverance occasionally, but the best I have ever found is a poem (surprise? probably not).

In “Berryman,” poet W. S. Merwin (he’s prolific, but most likely you’ve encountered his translations of Neruda) describes the advice John Berryman (most famous for The Dream Songs) gave him as a young writer. I love the whole poem, but especially these lines:

as for publishing he advised me
to paper my wall with rejection slips
and the closing two stanzas:
I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t
you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write



And there you have it.