For a Coming Extinction

W. S. Merwin

Gray whaleNow that we are sending you to The EndThat great godTell himThat we who follow you invented forgivenessAnd forgive nothingI write as though you could understandAnd I could say itOne must always pretend somethingAmong the dyingWhen you have left the seas nodding on their stalksEmpty of youTell him that we were madeOn another dayThe bewilderment will diminish like an echoWinding along your inner mountainsUnheard by usAnd find its way outLeaving behind it the futureDeadAnd oursWhen you will not see againThe whale calves trying the lightConsider what you will find in the black gardenAnd its courtThe sea cows the Great Auks the gorillasThe irreplaceable hosts ranged countlessAnd fore-ordaining as starsOur sacrificesJoin your word to theirsTell himThat it is we who are important

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W.S. Merwin was born in New York City in 1927 and was United States Poet Laureate in 2010. He graduated from Princeton University in 1948, where he studied with John Berryman and R.P. Blackmur. From 1949 to 1951 he worked as a tutor in France, Mallorca, and Portugal; for several years afterward he made the greater part of his living by translating from French, Spanish, Latin, and Portuguese. His first book of poetry, A Mask for Janus (1952) was selected by W.H. Auden for the Yale Younger Poets Prize.

Since then, Merwin has authored dozens of books of poetry and prose. His work embodies a bold commitment to experimentation and transformation rooted in the moral necessity of bearing witness, and is influenced by his profoundly environmentalist, pacifist, and anti–imperialist beliefs. He won many awards, as well as fellowships from the Rockefeller and the Guggenheim Foundations and the National Endowment for the Arts. W.S. Merwin passed away on March 15, 2019 at his home near Haiku-Pauwela, HI. He was 91.

This Fiftieth Anniversary edition celebrates one of the most ground-breaking books in American poetry. When first published in 1967, W.S. Merwin’s The Lice was revolutionary. Its visionary urgency directly engaged the nexus of aesthetics and morality, exerting an immediate and lasting effect on the writing and reading of poetry. Like all great art, this monumental work continues to inspire.

As Merwin discussed in an interview, "The Lice was written at a time when I really felt there was no point in writing. I got to the point where I thought the future was so bleak that there was no point in writing anything at all. And so the poems kind of pushed their way upon me. I would be out growing vegetables and walking around the countryside when all of a sudden I'd find myself writing a poem, and I'd write it."

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