The Poetry Foundation published a truly spectacular feature on W. S. Merwin’s 1967 book The Lice this week, in a piece by Adrienne Raphel entitled “Reading a Dysfunctional World: Why Merwin’s The Lice is needed now more than ever.”
Raphel does a “deep dive” into the themes, messages, and the mind of W.S. Merwin brought forward in this groundbreaking book, which is now being celebrated with a 50th Anniversary edition published by Copper Canyon Press, and is being discovered again by a new generation of readers who are finding the content’s relevance to current events pertinent and “eerily of the moment”. Raphel recognizes these poems as “charged with uncertainty, written in a world on the brink of environmental meltdown torn by tyrants.”
Raphel explores how the poems “highlight the inextricable connection that Merwin traces between politics and the environment”, and in one passage, excerpted below, explores how The Merwin Conservancy is plays an important part in Merwin’s way of living with intention:
In the decades since first publishing The Lice, Merwin has become a well-known conservationist. Over the past several decades, he has created an enormous botanical garden in Hawaii and has preserved many nearly extinct plant species. In 2010, the Merwin Conservancy was founded to honor Merwin’s literary and environmental legacies. At Merwin’s property, everything returns to nature. Michael Wiegers, the executive editor of Copper Canyon, told me that when he visited Merwin in Hawaii, Merwin was carrying a large stack of papers to the compost pile. The papers, it turned out, were manuscripts that poets had sent to Merwin to read. Once he had finished them and taken notes, Merwin took the manuscripts to the compost heap. At first, Wiegers was slightly horrified, but then he realized that Merwin was giving these poets the ultimate honor. “These poets have contributed back to the soil, the land, the trees, making this home where he’s written some of his most beautiful poems,” Wiegers said. The poets had seeded the paper with their emotions and ideas, and the paper would now return to its original state.
To read the full article, visit The Poetry Foundation’s website.