We think a lot about gratitude these days, and feel it, even amidst the dark, sad news that overtakes us, and momentarily obscures it. Acknowledging what we have helps dispel feelings of loss or fear. We know lots of wonderful poems of gratitude but only one that manages to express thanks amidst the very hard things that befall us in life.  It is by W.S. Merwin and called simply “Thanks”. We find it remarkable and hard and heartbreaking and heartening, all that complexity of feeling, which echoes so perfectly that which we are living  now…

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

If it is too harsh and too strange, there is also this, which Merwin called, perfectly, “Variation on a Theme”:


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

Whatever the form, “thank you” helps us navigate.
Related posts:

Noticing Gratitude

“Thanks” from “The Rain in the Trees” and “Migration: New & Selected Poems
“Variation on a Theme” from “The Moon Before Morning
Both poems can be found in W.S. Merwin: Collected Poems 1996-2011

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