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By W. S. Merwin

In a dream I returned to the river of bees

Five orange trees by the bridge and

Beside two mills my house

Into whose courtyard a blindman followed

The goats and stood singing

Of what was older


Soon it will be fifteen years


He was old he will have fallen into his eyes


I took my eyes

A long way to the calendars

Room after room asking how shall I live


One of the ends is made of streets

One man processions carry through it

Empty bottles their

Image of hope

It was offered to me by name


Once once and once

In the same city I was born

Asking what shall I say


He will have fallen into his mouth

Men think they are better than grass


I return to his voice rising like a forkful of hay


He was old he is not real nothing is real

Nor the noise of death drawing water


We are the echo of the future


On the door it says what to do to survive

But we were not born to survive

Only to live


W. S. Merwin, “The River of Bees” from The Second Four Books of Poems (Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 1993). Copyright © 1993 by W. S. Merwin. Reprinted with the permission of The Wylie Agency, Inc.

Source: The Second Four Books of Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1993)

Poet Bio

A prolific poet and translator, W.S. Merwin’s style changed over the years from traditional to free form. He won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize for his first book, A Mask for Janus, published in 1952, and the Pulitzer Prize for his 1970 collection The Carrier of Ladders. A prolific writer, he was the author of over 50 books of poetry, prose, and translations. Merwin lived Hawaii for the last 40 years of his life; he was a devoted environmentalist and many of his poems take up ecological themes. He was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States in 2010. He died in 2019.

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