Wednesday, November 21, 2012


While rereading Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies a couple of nights ago, I came across a lovely poem by W.S. Merwin that captures my own sense of the need to remain grateful in a world that is often riddled with war, loss, and injustice.  Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, and may you find something in this poem that also resonates with your own lives.


By W.S. Merwin

                    with the night falling we are saying thank you
                    we are stopping on the bridge to bow from the railings
                    we are running out of the glass rooms
                    with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
                    and say thank you
                    we are standing by the water looking out 
                    in different directions

                    back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
                    after funerals we are saying thank you
                    after the news of the dead
                    whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
                    in a culture up to its chin in shame
                    living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

                    over the telephones we are saying thank you
                    in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
                    remembering wars and the police at the back door
                    and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
                    in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
                    with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
                    unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

                    with the animals dying around us
                    our lost feelings we are saying thank you
                    with the forests falling faster than the minutes 
                    of our lives we are saying thank you
                    with the words going out like cells of a brain
                    with the cities growing over us like the earth
                    we are saying thank you faster and faster
                    with nobody listening we are saying thank you
                    we are saying thank you and waving
                    dark though it is


  1. What a good poem. Being grateful for being alive has something to do with staying sane, I think. The alternative is to risk getting eaten up with anxiety. And it feels like the humble thing to do. And if the whole reason for my existence is beyond me, what's the alternative?

    One can read a note of irony into the poem - could it be satirising life itself? Even if there is one there, satire -as someone once said- is a form of compliment. (For example, the British politician Boris Johnson built his career on allowing the UK satirical programme Have I Got News For You to ruthlessly ridicule him week after week).

    And a Happy Thanksgiving to you!

  2. You're welcome, TERESA. Happy Thanksgiving.

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful comments, DOMINIC. I quite agree that one could hardly remain sane in this chaotic world without an abiding sense of gratitude for just being here, for just having the chance to experience this thing called life. Yes, there may be a bit of irony in the poem, perhaps intended in the complimentary sense, but I also think the poem is calling upon us to accept and be grateful for what is, versus what we wish the world to be. It's always been a tightrope walk for me, this business of trying to accept what is while simultaneously trying to change the world for the better.

  4. Thank you for posting Merwin's poem, George. It is an important one for me. I have heard people complain about it, that it sounds like blind acceptance, and we should just roll over. But I agree with you, that this kind of gratitude is difficult but (to me) necessary. Rumi said: Smiles come best from those who weep.

    Your photograph is stunning, and it means more to me today as we are at the lake celebrating Thanksgiving, and it looks something like your scene.

    Happy Thanksgiving, my dear friend. I'm supremely thankful for you.

  5. Thanks, RUTH, and Happy Thanksgiving! Yes, I can see how this poem would be controversial. It resonates with me, however, because it challenges gratitude to be something more than pollyannaish. It calls upon us to grateful for what is, even as we strive in our individual ways to make things better. It's paradoxical, of course, but what is life if not a paradox?

  6. thanks George. I hadn't come across this poem before and it is saying something of utter importance.


  7. Glad you liked this poem, ANDY. Not everyone will, of course, but I think the message is a good one—specifically, that we should remain in a state of gratitude for the realities of life, even as we strive to make the world a better place.

  8. Gosh George I found it hard to find anything positive in this poem at first, I had to read it several times before I was able to see that there is a lot to be grateful for in spite of the terrible things which are happening around us. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

  9. Thanks, PAT. Yes, I think the poem is somewhat challenging at first. As I read it, however, it is challenging us to remember that there is always something wonderful to be grateful for, even when the world seems turned upside down.

  10. We are fortunate/unfortunate beings. -- I'd rather shout out thank you than whisper it but in this world I have to settle for the whispered thank you. Good post -- barbara

  11. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, BARBARA.

  12. Thank you for your blog and a belated many happy returns.

  13. Hmmm. It almost seems like the "thank yous" are ingenuious. Perhaps it is a warming to mean what we say ... If we are thankful, doesn't one usually return the favor with an act of kindness, of reaching out and hugging, etc. The poem was very rushed. Like when people say "I'll pray for you" but then never really do. All this thanking and praying. Perhaps it is a warning to REALLY mean it. And live our life showing it. ??