While Keats wrote they were cutting down the sandalwood forests
while he listened to the nightingale they heard their own axes
echoing through the forests
while he sat in the walled garden on the hill outside the city they
thought of their gardens dying far away on the mountain
while the sound of the words clawed at him they thought of their wives
while the tip of his pen travelled the iron they had coveted was
hateful to them
while he thought of the Grecian woods they bled under red flowers
while he dreamed of wine the trees were falling from the trees
while he felt his heart they were hungry and their faith was sick
while the song broke over him they were in a secret place and they
were cutting it forever
while he coughed they carried the trunks to the hole in the forest
the size of a foreign ship
while he groaned on the voyage to Italy they fell on the trails and
when he lay with the odes behind him the wood was sold for cannons
when he lay watching the window they came home and lay down
and an age arrived when everything was explained in another language
— W.S. Merwin, from his 1988 book The Rain in the Trees. Copyright © 1988 by W. S. Merwin. Used by permission of the publisher, Knopf.
To browse through our archive of W.S. Merwin’s poetry, click here.
To support the preservation of W.S. Merwin’s legacy and our efforts to preserve his home and palm forest for future generations, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to The Merwin Conservancy.