Featured Anthology: Earth Shattering – W. S. Merwin

Sections three and four of Earth Shattering, ‘Killing the Wildlife’ and ‘Unbalance of Nature’, bring together poems within those specific themes, including issues of extinction of species and human interference with the processes of nature. There are also poems that show the effects of pollution, tree-felling and urbanisation, showing our alienation from nature in cities.

With a profound sensitivity for nature and words, W. S. Merwin has produced some of the most influential American poetry of the last fifty years. He is an environmentalist, pacifist and intensely anti-imperialist, which, combined with his intimate feeling for landscape and language has enabled him to create poetry where the natural subject interflows with the words and style of the poem. In an interview with Daniel Bourne, W. S. Merwin says:

The natural world is inseperable from us, and our attitude toward it, our use of it, is political action. If you pick up any part of it you pick up the whole thing. Sometimes I feel more immediately concerned with what’s happening to the elements, the sea, the animals, the language, than I do with any particular society. I don’t make a distinction in terms of importance. The poisoning of the soil, the imminence of nuclear disaster, are the same thing. You shut your eyes and you open them and you’re staring at the same thing though the form of it may look different.

The Shore

How can anyone know that a whale
two hundred years ago could hear another
whale at the opposite end of the earth
or tell how long the eyes
of a whale have faced both halves of the world
and have found light far down in old company

with the sounds of hollow iron charging
clanging through the oceans and with the circuitries
and the harpoons of the humans
and the poisoning of the seas
a whale can hear no farther through the present
than a jet can fly in a few minutes

in days of their hearing the great Blues gathered like clouds
the sunlight under the sea’s surfaces sank
into their backs as into the water around them
through which they flew invisible from above
except as flashes of movement
and they could hear each other’s voices wherever they went

once it is on its own a Blue can wander
the whole world beholding both sides of the water
raising in each ocean the songs of the Blues
that it learned from distances it can no longer hear
it can fly all its life without ever meeting another Blue
this is what we are doing this is the way we sing oh Blue Blue

W. S. Merwin

(This poem is reproduced with permission from Earth Shattering (2007, Bloodaxe Books), edited by Neil Astley.)