By Anonymous (not verified) on October 22, 2010

Q: Who do you write for? In Cover Note you wrote:

. . . I have not
the ancients’ confidence
in the survival of
one track of syllables
nor in some ultimate
moment of insight . . .

Merwin: There are several answers to that one. There’s a sense in which you write only for yourself because the only ear, the only way you can hear the language, is the way you hear it yourself. Beyond that I write for everybody; for everybody who uses the language and who’s interested. I’d like anyone who wants to read poems and is interested in these things to find that there’s something available in them.

We’ve gone through a period of Modernism that pushed aside the late Victorians, who got very, very conventional and were essentially writing for a particular class structure. Modernism brushed that out of the way. But also at the same time it brushed aside the idea that you’re writing for it to be comprehensible.

One has to write for right now, and one writes out of some kind of respect for one’s ancestors. My son is a novelist, and he said to me once: “I love this thing about poets: You all really feel there’s a line connecting you to Keats, Milton, and Shakespeare and all the way back.” I said, “Oh yeah, it’s right there. We have whatever they gave.”

Q: You write, in the poem “First Sight,” about “late blessings.” What are some that you appreciate?

Merwin: I love my wife, and I love my life here. I’m happy to be alive. I feel very lucky to be able to write sometimes and to work in the garden. That’s quite enough.

Q: In The Shadow of Sirius you write about “astonishment.” How do you stay open to being astonished?

Merwin: Good question. I think that’s a question one should always ask one’s self. The act of being surprised is always marvelous. It means that you’re opening up; you’re not getting sclerotic. Anything that tends to open your eyes and feelings is a good thing.

Q: You seem continually astonished by nature, love, and words. What else astonishes you?

Merwin: What else is there?

Q: Any advice?

Merwin: Yes, one important thing: Read for pleasure. Read junk. Read every kind of book. But read for pleasure. The reason the Puritans wanted to stamp out poetry was because it gave pleasure. It’s about things you love, things that you care about. Sir Philip Sidney, in the generation before Shakespeare, said, “Poetry begins in delight and ends in wisdom.” And it will never end in wisdom if it doesn’t begin in delight and continue in delight. When you read a poem and you think, “God, that is so beautiful, I don’t want to forget that,” and you go on saying it to yourself because you love it, that’s pleasure. That is real pleasure.

This is but an excerpt from Merwin's interview in the November issue of The Progressive. To read the entire interview and to subscribe to The Progressive for only $14.97 for a year, simply subscribe now by clicking here.

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By Julia Burke
Ali Abd ElRahman believes the United States has the potential to take a leadership role in food...

A plea to United States citizens to work for peace

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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