Study Guide

One of the Lives What's Up With the Title?

By M.S. Merwin

What's Up With the Title?

This title, "One of the Lives," is quite the dynamo. Reading it before we dig into the poem, we expect to get the scoop on, you know, somebody's life. But, as we read through the poem, the title takes on many different possible meanings. Figuring out which meaning Merwin is going for becomes a kind of a guessing game.

Really, there are a few ways to think about the title's relation to the poem:

  1. Of all these people and scenarios the speaker is recalling, only one would have had to change in order to change the path of his life, or even his very existence. 
  2. Or, the speaker's life is just one small speck against the backdrop of all that came before him. 
  3. Or, the speaker himself is part of this gigantic chain of if-then moments that stretch back, and forward, through time. His own actions will make him a part of someone else's life in the far distant future, just like those in the past have affected his own life.

We think that convincing arguments can be made for one, or all, of these interpretations. Talk amongst yourselves to see which makes the most sense to you.