a book of luminous things

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Milosz on Merwin’s “Utterance”


I’ve been reading a book of poems edited by Czeslaw Milosz and enjoying his commentary before each poem as much as the poems themselves. Called A Book of Luminous Things, the volume will forever enjoy a special place in my heart because I bought it in a distant town that  I was visiting and had never visited before and, as we all know, books purchased on our travels gain pedigree by the memory running through their veins alone. In this case I was in New York’s Hudson Valley in a town called Rhinebeck. The store? Oblong Books & Music, thank you.

Anyway, the poem. It’s brief but memorable, written by W. S. Merwin. In his commentary, Milosz writes, “At any moment in our life we are entangled in all the past of humanity, and that past is primarily language, so we live as if upon a background of incessant chorus, and of course it is possible to imagine the presence of everything which has ever been spoken.”

To see what Milosz means, you need only read Merwin’s eight-line meditation:


Sitting over words
very late I have heard a kind of whispered sighing
not far
like a night wind in pines or like the sea in the dark
the echo of everything that has ever
been spoken
still spinning its one syllable
between the earth and silence

Between the earth and silence. I think that’s where I want to be–today, at least. And I hope, as an important piece of time and humanity, you find a place there, too.