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One of the Lives

One of the Lives

by M.S. Merwin

Nature Imagery

Symbol Analysis

Merwin glosses over images in the first three quarters of the poem. He doesn't really flesh out anything with description. Nope, he just briefly reports something then moves immediately along. We take in the information, but we don't linger any longer than necessary. It's almost like skimming down a list. But, at the end of the poem, Merwin slows down. How does he do it? With a turn to the serenity of nature. And as readers we're grateful that he does. The effect of starving us of imagery and description for so long, then giving it to us all at the end, is that we're much more receptive to it. We want Merwin to slow down so we can have a look around, and he finally does.

  • Line 20: He briefly describes the farmhouse ("stone," "empty") in which he's lying sick on a cot. We're now in a rustic, natural setting.
  • Line 25: Then the view from the window gives more natural detail: "the rain light of October." We are given an immediate sense of season, weather, and a quality of natural light. 
  • Line 26-27: Through "the cracked pane," the speaker notices, again, the beauty of his surroundings: "the darkening / valley with its river sliding past amber mountains." 
  • Line 28: While the other images of nature in the poem are visual, this line is intended to engage more our hearing than our sight. The sound of plums falling in from a tree in the middle of the night is unmistakably vivid, and oddly peaceful. After all, it must be pretty quiet to hear a plum drop. That the speaker notices this speaks to how attuned he is to his natural surroundings.

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