This tribute to W. S. Merwin is by Dr. A. Hope Jahren, a geobiologist who is author of the memoir “Lab Girl” and a professor at the University of Oslo. My own experience of Merwin has been mostly through his elegant work as a translator.
“On the last day of the world, I would want to plant a tree,” is an oft-quoted line from Mr. Merwin’s poem, “Place.”
Mr. Merwin, who died last week at age 91, and his wife Paula, transformed the [Peahi Valley on Maui]. They built the Merwin Conservancy: 19 protected acres, an island within an island. The land was a dumping ground in 1977, little more than a rash of grassy boils festering in the exhausted soil. That same year, Mr. Merwin planted a sapling in the blight, then got up the next day and planted another one. The day after he did the same, and the day after that also. His trees made soil, and the soil made more trees. He planted a tree every day on that land for years, until his friends took over the planting under his direction.
(A. Hope Jahren, “The Poet Who Planted Trees,” NYTimes, 3-19-19)
(c) 2019 JMN.