Anniversary of my Death
Merwin's own act of mourning himself occurs in "For the Anniversary of My Death," a work that opens in the realm of immense abstractions, with Merwin positing that "every year without knowing it I have passed the day / When the last fires will wave to me." Like the enormity of the sun, this cosmic view is appalling in its undeniability and in its emptiness, but here it gives rise to its opposite, an urgent wish to embrace the earth, a longing to honor even the smallest of moments as though they were utterly significant: "As today writing after three days of rain / Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease / And bowing not knowing to what." The renewal as rainfall ends is magnified, transforming the wren's song into a celebration both modest and all-embracing. The rest of The Lice flowers out of this grief-stricken understanding that no reference to death can be allowed that does not in some way include one's own loss of all that is beloved. Moreover, what is truly beloved is yet to be discovered: what one honors, at this moment, is unknown--one bows "not knowing to what."
By Edward Brunner. From Poetry and Labor as Privilege: The Writings opf W.S. Merwin. Copyright © 1991 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.