Variation on a Theme: Writing Prompt
Many of you are familiar with W.S. Merwin’s poem, “Thanks.” But have you read this next one? I’m always comforted by the repetition, the work sur le motif, the variations, the circling, of writers and artists.
Variation on a Theme
by W.S. Merwin
Thank you my lifelong afternoon
late in this season of no age
thank you for my windows above the rivers
thank you for the true love you brought me to
when it was time at last and for words
that come out of silence and take me by surprise
and have carried me through the clear day
without once turning to look at me
thank you for friends and long echoes of them
and for those mistakes that were only mine
for the homesickness that guides the young plovers
from somewhere they loved before
they woke into it to another place
they loved before they ever saw it
thank you whole body and hand and eye
thank you for sights and moments known
only to me who will not see them again
except in my mindʻs eye where they have not changed
thank you for showing me the morning stars
and for the dogs who are guiding me
I’ve been re-reading Merwin’s The Moon Before Morning, which I liked when I first bought it, but am finding it deeper with each re-read. As often is the case with poetry.
I could probably quote the whole book, but that would be wrong :)
Here’s this, though:
The Wonder of the Imperfect
by W.S. Merwin
Nothing that I do is finished
so I keep returning to it
lured by the notion that I long
to see the whole of it at last
completed and estranged from me
but no the unfinished is what
I return to as it leads me on
I am made whole by what has just
escaped me as it always does
I am made of incompleteness
the words are not there in words
oh gossamer gossamer breath
moment daylight life untouchable
by no name with no beginning
what do we think we recognize
I’m finding a lot of comfort in the imperfect these days. I’m finding comfort in poems that continue from old poems. I find comfort in taking endless photos of the prayer flags in my backyard.
So my writing prompt for you today is to write a variation on Merwin’s variation. Or, to write a variation of one of your own poems from the past, near past, or future.
I’ll leave you with a few lines from another poem in the Merwin book.
“In my youth I believed in somewhere else
I put faith in travel
now I am becoming my own tree.”
There is something so solid and wise about this. I too, wish to become my own tree.
One afternoon last week the sparrows were careening around the neighbourhood, around my house. I stood in the backyard and watched them on their high flying racetrack. The sound was wonderful. For a while, I put my faith in these birds, the way they kept returning, circling, filled with joy, and singing all the while.