William Stanley Merwin’s poem ‘For the Anniversary of My Death’ appears in his poetry collection, The Second Four Books of Poems, published in 1993. This piece explores how a speaker thinks about his impending death. He broods upon date from the calendar as his death anniversary. The main themes of this poem include the futility of life and the inevitability of death.
Explore For the Anniversary of My Death
W.S. Merwin’s ‘For the Anniversary of My Death’ contains the poet’s changing viewpoints on life after his death.
The speaker of this poem has passed the day each year thinking about the day when he will die. He can imagine how the fire of life will wave him goodbye. Then the everlasting silence will set out like a tireless traveler. Death would change his take on life and human beings as well. He will be surprised at how a woman can love one man or men’s shamelessness. As he writes this poem after three days of rain, these thoughts make him bow to death’s power.
You can read the full poem here.
Merwin’s ‘For the Anniversary of My Death’ is a free-verse lyric poem that is written from the perspective of the poet’s persona. He uses the first-person narrative technique in order to present his ideas about his own death. In this piece, there is no regular rhyming pattern or meter. The text is separated into two stanzas. Besides, there is no end-stopped line even at the end. This unconventional usage of punctuation hints at the fact that this piece is not a statement but a personal opinion on death.
Merwin makes use of the following literary devices in ‘For the Anniversary of My Death’.
- Enjambment: This device is used throughout the text. For instance, it occurs in the first five lines of the poem.
- Metaphor: The term “fires” is a metaphor for life, and “silence” stands for death.
- Alliteration: It occurs in “will wave,” “silence will set,” “Tireless traveler,” etc.
- Simile: This device is used in the last line of the first stanza, “Like the beam of a lightless star.”
- Anaphora: It occurs in the fourth and fifth lines of the second stanza. This device is utilized for the sake of emphasis.
Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
Like the beam of a lightless star
The first stanza of ‘For the Anniversary of My Death’ begins with a speaker’s thoughts on his impending death. It seems the grip of death is heavy on his mind. Each year he passes a day thinking about this grave idea. He does it quite spontaneously. From this attitude of the speaker, it can be assumed that the speaker writes this piece in his old age.
On this particular day, he thinks about the event when the “last fires,” a metaphorical reference to life, will wave to him. Then the eternal silence will set out. He describes the silence as a “tireless traveler” who wanders about without feeling weary. After his death, silence will become his only friend.
In the last line, the poet uses a simile. He compares the silence to the “beam” of a “lightless star.” It is a roundabout way of depicting the darkness. A lightless star does not emit light. It radiates darkness.
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what
The second stanza becomes more personal. Here, the poetic persona speculates his changing perceptions. Once, he understood life as an inspiring idea. But, after his death, he will be cynical about life on earth.
He will be in a garment stranger than his body. Then he will be surprised thinking about how a woman can love one man. He will be disgusted to know about the shamelessness of men.
The speaker writes this poem after three days of rain. It is for the first time, after a long silence, he can listen to the beautiful song of a wren. When the falling of rain finally ceases, he unknowingly bows to a magnanimous force. It is nothing other than death.
Merwin’s ‘For the Anniversary of My Death’ depicts the poet’s perception of life after his death. He subjectively talks about death’s power and how one feels little in front of it.
This piece is about the poet’s preoccupation with death. He is quite obsessed over his impending death. This poem describes how death will change his ideas about life.
This poem taps on several themes that include the futility of life, inevitability of death, silence, and darkness. The main idea of the poem concerns the poet’s obsession with his impending death.
The following list contains a number of poems that similarly tap on the themes present in William Stanley Merwin’s ‘For the Anniversary of My Death’.
- ‘Because I could not stop for Death’ by Emily Dickinson — This poem depicts one fearless speaker’s journey into the afterlife with the mighty death as her companion.
- ‘Death, be not Proud’ by John Donne — This piece tells readers not to gear death as he keeps the corrupt company and only leads one to heaven.
- ‘Death is Nothing at All’ by Henry Scott Holland — In this poem, Holland describes how death is not a real separation.
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