“If you have to be sure don’t write”

From the Washington Post obit, “W.S. Merwin, poet of austere lyricism who twice won the Pulitzer Prize, dies at 91,” written by Harrison Smith.

For all his acclaim, Mr. Merwin sometimes expressed uncertainty about the quality of his work. In his poem “Berryman,” he recalled a harrowing conversation with his mentor at Princeton:

I had hardly begun to read

I asked how can you ever be sure

that what you write is really

any good at all and he said you can’t

you can’t you can never be sure

you die without knowing

whether anything you wrote was any good

if you have to be sure don’t write

Many of the Merwin obits also reprinted “Separation,” a simple three line poem:

Your absence has gone through me

Like thread through a needle.

Everything I do is stitched with its color.


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