May 3, 2021

Prompt: On the Anniversary of My Death

Palm Jungle - Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

W.S. Merwin died on March 15, 2019. He died at home at the age of 91, in the house he built, among the thousands of palms he planted. In 1976, Merwin moved to Hawaii to study with Robert Aitken, a Zen Buddhist teacher. He married Paula Dunaway, in 1983, and settled on Maui. For over 40 years, they lived in a home that William designed and helped build, surrounded by acres of land once devastated and depleted from years of erosion, logging and toxic agricultural practices. Together, the Merwins painstakingly restored the land into one of the most comprehensive palm gardens in the world.

On the first anniversary of his death, I posted here a poem by Merwin titled "For the Anniversary of My Death" (from his collection The Second Four Books of Poems  

The poem begins: 

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day   
When the last fires will wave to me...

I found the idea in Merwin's poem of writing a poem that imagines what you would have to say on the anniversary of your death unique. It sounds like a depressing idea but there is the wonderful optimism in the poem of having passed that day every year without knowing it. 

Today might be the anniversary of my death, and considering that possibility, perhaps I should also be "bowing not knowing to what."

I have this quote on a card over my writing desk.

On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree
– W.S. Merwin



This month's writing prompt is to write a poem for the anniversary of your death. It could be the first anniversary or any year after. Who is the intended audience?  I think the prompt is more open to possibilities than the title might suggest at first. It could even be humorous.





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2 comments:

  1. My brother was transferred from our local hospital to its nursing home with "end of life" status just days ago. He may bounce back but most likely will continue to decline. We are torn between spending time with him and trying to "put his house in order." Thinking about Death when it is more than an abstract concept colors what comes out - not only in a poem but how I react to a range of situations.

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