W. S. Merwin’s “Remembering Summer”


We are but 11 days away from the shortest day of the year and the start of winter, December 21st. What better day to celebrate a new Merwin poem called “Remembering Summer”?

It’s found in W.S.’s (that’s William Stanley’s to you) newest collection, Garden Time, the title itself a reminder of summer, at least here in the northern, freeze-your-hey-nonny-nonnies-off zone.

The poems in Merwin’s latest book take a page out of the Pole Zbigniew Herbert’s stylebook. Meaning: The first word of each poem is capitalized, as is the pronoun “I” (which looks admittedly foolish and adolescent when it’s lower-cased) but, beyond that, all letters are lower case (as in the e’s in cummings) with no punctuation to speak of (just don’t speak of it to your 6th-grade English teacher).

The subject of summer made me reminisce, and I quickly found similarities in the season’s effects on us, as seen first here, then there:

“Summer’s End” by Ken Craft

In the dog days, when Altair and Deneb
set toward western waters, Vega
flaring in their starry wake, the song
of peepers and crickets melds liquid
to languid; the first maple leafs ripen
and curl to red fists; pine needles spread
gold scripture across the water;
nuthatch feet circle three trunks–
gentle scriveners
scribing the dawn of dying days.


“Remembering Summer” by W. S. Merwin

Being too warm the old lady said to me
is better than being too cold I think now
in between is the best because you never
give it a thought but it goes by too fast
I remember the winter how cold it got
I could never get warm wherever I was
but I don’t remember the summer heat like that
only the long days the breathing of the trees
the evenings with the hens still talking in the lane
and the light getting longer in the valley
the sound of a bell from down there somewhere
I can sit here now still listening to it

Ah, yes. The hens. The bells. I’m not sure where Merwin lives and writes, but I have a feeling New York City isn’t it. And if he did, would he really want to remember summer in such skyscrapered, police-sirened environs?

Summer only stretches out and sleeps in its true languorous loveliness in the country, it seems to me. In “Summer’s End,” I’m writing from a Maine lake, and in “Remembering Summer,” Merwin writes from his summer hideout, wherever that may be.


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