Merwin’s “The New Song”

I suspect our advancing years gives Merwin and I more in common than he might have with younger readers. It’s clear Merwin and have confronted some similar issues as we’ve aged, and come up with some of the same answers. This poem sounds like one I should have written after our recent remodel and my decision on what to keep and what to throw away rather than keeping everything I’ve accumulated over the years.


For some time I thought there was time
and that there would always be time
for what I had a mind to do
and what I could imagine
going back to and finding it
as I had found it the first time
but by this time I do not know
what I thought when I thought back then

there is no time yet it grows less
there is the sound of rain at night
arriving unknown in the leaves
once without before or after
then I hear the thrush waking at
daybreak singing the new song

I’ve long bought books, particularly, and tools, too often, that I thought I would like to read or learn to use. I already got rid of some of the tools when we moved to Tacoma a few years ago, but I stubbornly hung on to books that I’d bought when I was in college. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the reasons I started this blog years ago was to record my reaction to the many poetry books I had bought over the years and had been too busy grading papers to actually read.

I’ve been doing that on this blog since 2001 and still haven’t finished reading all the books I bought while in college. Of course, I have continued to accumulate new books during that time as I’ve been inspired by my own readings or, more commonly, by fellow bloggers. Still, during our remodel I decided I would finally get rid of my collection of Greek Tragedies because “by this time I do not know/ what I thought when I thought back then” and bought them. I also got rid of a number of novels by famous authors that everyone “should have read.”

I even got rid of some poetry books that I decided I would never re-read before I was no longer able to read. I’ve always tried to buy hardbound copies of poetry books under the assumption that I would want to re-read them over the years. At 73, I’ve started buying Kindle versions on the assumption that there would be less for those I leave behind to dispose of when I make my final departure.

There has never been enough time to do all the things I want to do or learn all the things I want to learn, but, like Merwin, I’m beginning to realize how little time is left.

Perhaps that realization should convince me I need to read more in order to finish all those books, but, instead, I find myself reading less and spending more time outside. If I lived in Arizona, I might never read another book.

It would be nice if I could assume that all my reading has finally brought me enlightenment, but, at best, it has taught me that I don’t have time to waste, that I need to live in the moment because there’s no future to worry about.

That’s strangely freeing.