Last night, Dave, my friend Chloe, and I heard W.S. Merwin give his inaugural reading as Poet Laureate. I was most struck by the softness of idea and word in Merwin’s poetry. The man is a force, to be sure, and there was nothing “mamby pamby” about his poems, his ideas, or his belief that greed is destroying our world. Yet, in the midst of this solid strength, there was a softness that comes, it seems to me, most easily to those who have lived a few years on this earth. My favorite lines from the reading were, “It is not enough. It is enough.” Nothing biting, nothing even especially vivid, just soft and honest and somehow so right.
At this point in my life, I need some softness. The trail of life is long for me it seems now, so softness is precious. When life becomes arduous, I think of The Lord of the Rings and the way that Tolkien depicted that journey as full of rough edges and things that could cut – swords, and words, and doubt – and I imagine the comfort the travellers must have taken in soft clothing, maybe especially Gandalf’s robes. I can imagine Frodo, exhausted beyond knowing, leaning against the great wizard and resting his cheek on the flowing fabric. It’s an image I’m clinging to myself these days.
So when Merwin’s words are soft in the edginess of the world, I take comfort. When I get home in the evening, I slip on fluffy house socks and hear my footfall get lighter. I wrap my fingers in yarn and listen to the soft slip of hook in loop. I seek softness in the hazy light of evening, and I rest my cheek against the robe of comfort.
For more on the Merwin reading, check out Chloe’ Miller’s post. Visit if only to see the great photos she got of that beautiful night.