The Animals

A poem by W. S. Merwin:

All these years behind windows
With blind crosses sweeping the tables
 
And myself tracking over empty ground   
Animals I never saw
 
I with no voice
 
Remembering names to invent for them   
Will any come back will one
 
Saying yes
 
Saying look carefully yes   
We will meet again
 
 
I wrote this poem on the dry-erase board on my fridge when I lived in Baltimore. It stood up there untouched for an unusually long time, before eventually succombing, like anything else on the board, to being changed, partially erased, or incorporated into a surrealist doodle. So it goes in a house of artists.
 
I like the poem because the animals don’t have static names. They’re not classifications, or archetypes of “animals,” but individuals, with emotions, families, troubles, joys, challenges, and everything else that we consider to be part of a rich, or even half-rich, life. He makes up names for them instead of remembering their taxonomic labels, even though he admits he never saw them in person. There is also a hint of the connection between other animals and communication; without other animals to listen and respond to, he has no voice.
 
The ending is also good and fitting, as we humans have way more questions than answers when it comes to our ecological homes (or as a quote goes, that I can’t recall with complete accuracy: we don’t know enough to be able to run the world). He asks if any animal will come back: if any animal will meet him as another being in the ecosystem, as a recurring member of their cyclical paths. In order for a human to re-enter this sphere and encounter animals as they are, she must look carefully and ask questions–not stomp on the natural world with pre-determined answers (as the economist does).
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One thought on “The Animals

  1. Pingback: Messengers | Coming Soon: A Vast Desert

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