There is nothing more intimate than a memory. We can share experiences with others. We can delight in the same sunrise; we can mourn the same loss; but we cannot exactly recreate for others the moment in which our souls are profoundly engaged.
Enter The Moon before Morning, a collection of poems by Pulitzer Prize-winning author W.S. Merwin. Throughout this poignant landscape of memories, we are reminded that no two experiences are exactly the same. In the poem, “After the Voices,” Merwin writes: I have no way of telling what I miss / I am the only one who misses it. This is a glimpse of the intimate relationship between the observer and the natural world—a relationship that is both universal and distinctly unique to the individual.
While Merwin underscores the personal nature of recalling one’s experiences, his collection of poems also acknowledges the vastness of time. Just as we are drawn to the immediate world of the speaker, Merwin’s poetic lens zooms back out to remind us that our individual stories are preceded by countless ones that came before. We encounter this perspective in “Elegy for a Walnut Tree,” a poem in which Merwin does a remarkable job of balancing past and present, evoking reverence for life on a bigger scale: …it was high summer when I first saw you…and already you had lived through wars…through days of parting and seasons of absence…and still when spring climbed toward summer / you opened once more the curled sleeping fingers/of newborn leaves as though nothing had happened.
As Merwin depicts the passing of years through animate beings and inanimate objects alike, his collection offers wisdom for the reader. We learn that the cyclical passage of time ties our human experiences together—we go through seasons of loss and renewal the same way our ancestors did, and each generation must discover for itself what it means to witness life in all its facets
but the knowing and the rain
the dream and the morning
the wind the pain
the love the burning.
it seems you must let them come
so you can let them go
you must let them go
so you can let them com.
Excerpted from “A Step at a Time,” these words invite us to revel in the beauty of acceptance and release, both which form the cadence of a journey in The Moon before Morning. – Joanne Mallari
Also available by W. S. Merwin: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; The Shadow of Sirius; Migration, New and Selected Poems; Unchopping a Tree; The Folding Cliffs; The Rain in the Trees; Selected Translations; Purgatorio, A New Verse Translation; The Lost Upland; Present Company; The River Sound; Asian Figures; The Book of Fables; Houses and Travelers; Unframed Originals, Recollections; The Ends of the Earth; The Vixen; The Miner’s Pale Children; East Window; Selected Poems; Finding the Islands; Lament for the Makers; Summer Doorways; Spanish Ballads; Flower & Hand; Selected Translations; Opening the Hand; The Compass Flower; Travels; The Pupil; From the Spanish Morning;