Poems by W.S. Merwin

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The Silence of the Mine Canaries

by W.S. Merwin

From Canary Spring 2010

Mr. Merwin lives on a pineapple plantation on an island in the Pacific Ocean at approximately 20 degrees North latitude by 156 degrees West longitude.

The bats have not flowered
for years now in the crevice
of the tower wall when the long twilight
of spring has seeped across it
as the west light brought back
the colors of parting
the furred buds have not hung there
waking among their dark petals
before sailing out blind along their own echoes
whose high infallible cadenzas only
they could hear completely and could ride
to take over at that hour
from the swallows gliding
ever since daybreak over the garden
from their nests under the eaves
skimming above the house and the hillside pastures
their voices glittering in their exalted tongue
who knows how long now since they have been seen
and the robins have gone from the barn
where the cows spent the summer days
though they stayed long after the cows were gone
the flocks of five kinds of tits have not come again
the blue tits that nested each year
in the wall where their young
could be heard deep in the stones by the window
calling Here Here have not returned
the marks of their feet are still there on the stone
of their doorsill that does not know
what it is missing
the cuckoo has not been heard
again this May
nor for many a year the nightjar
nor the mistle thrush song thrush whitethroat
the blackcap that instructed Mendelssohn
I have seen them
I have stood and listened
I was young
they were singing of youth
not knowing that they were singing for us


“The Silence of the Mine Canaries” from W.S. Merwin’s The Shadow of Sirius (2009) is used by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org



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