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March 23, 2019

Berryman โ€” R.S. Merwin

 

I will tell you what he told me
in the years just after the war
as we then called
the second world war
 
don't lose your arrogance yet he said
you can do that when you're older
lose it too soon and you may
merely replace it with vanity
 
just one time he suggested
changing the usual order
of the same words in a line of verse
why point out a thing twice
 
he suggested I pray to the Muse
get down on my knees and pray
right there in the corner and he
said he meant it literally
 
it was in the days before the beard
and the drink but he was deep
in tides of his own through which he sailed
chin sideways and head tilted like a tacking sloop
 
he was far older than the dates allowed for
much older than I was he was in his thirties
he snapped down his nose with an accent
I think he had affected in England
 
as for publishing he advised me
to paper my wall with rejection slips
his lips and the bones of his long fingers trembled
with the vehemence of his views about poetry
 
he said the great presence
that permitted everything and transmuted it
in poetry was passion
passion was genius and he praised movement and invention
 
I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can't
 
you can't you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don't write
 

..............................................

The poem is based on a conversation Merwin had with his mentor, John Berryman, when they were both at Princeton University in the late 1940s.

March 23, 2019 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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