"For the Anniversary of my Death", by W.S. Merwin.

Essay by massi1234University, Bachelor'sA+, June 2005

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My favorite recent poem has been "For the Anniversary of My Death" by W.S. Merwin. This is an old poem, first published in 1963, yet its message is timeless: Merwin inspires us to reflect on what seldom crosses our mind. After all, such an anniversary awaits for every one of us.

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day

When the last fires will wave to me

And the silence will set out

Tireless traveler

Like the beam of a lightless star

The first 5 lines describe what happens "every year": the title of the poem makes it clear what kind of day it is that the poet is passing over. What an interesting way to think of our mortality: he is referring to death as the day when the "last fires" (that is, the warmth of life along with the poet's dreams) would see him off, would wave goodbye, as he leaves for the afterlife/eternity.

The author, then, compares the silence of the afterlife, which is beyond "the last fires", to the "beam of a lightless star", which can travel at the speed of light without meeting any resistance, able to spread everywhere. At the same time, this silence must have a source in the same way as a beam does: we realize here how the silence's source (that is, the afterlife) is beyond our understanding, in the same way as a lightless star (that is, the beam's source in the poem) remains invisible to us, and thus beyond our understanding.

Then I will no longer

Find myself in life as in a strange garment

Surprised at the earth

And the love of one woman

And the shamelessness of men

As today writing after three days of rain

Hearing the wren sing and the falling...