Poems By William Carlos Williams & W. S. Merwin-Doctors & Mystics And The Least Among Us

The Drunkard

You drunken
tottering
bum

by Christ
in spite of all
your filth

and sordidness
I envy
you

It is the very face
of love
itself

abandoned
in that powerless
committal

-William Carlos Williams

Hope in this world is a tricky thing, with all the suffering around, should we care to look.

I doubt Williams is invoking the Godhead here, but a ‘Jesus Christ’ might slip out of me or you upon suddenly catching sight of the wretched. Open sores and infections usually indicate deeper physical illness. Rambling speech and shuffling feet usually indicate a disordered mind and soul. Some people could be so far gone they may not be coming back.

But there’s an abandonment in the desire to be free, untethered, and lost within the world.

One of my takes: Love means obligations to others, where abandonment also meets responsibility, not merely abandonment to one’s own desires. Each of us, despite our habits, could become captive to our desires. Watch out for yourselves.

There’s something like a ‘narrative’ race on in the power-centers, and for politicos, right now, because I see U.S. institutions as seriously weakened, overbuilt and stagnant.

On that note, W.S. Merwin came of age during the post-war period, the son of a Presbyterian minister. I’d argue we’re witnessing a religious vision becoming transposed through the Modernist and post-Modernist lenses in his work (especially with the ‘eco’ stuff). This is what I’ve been calling the journey of the (S)elf, within the Romantic bowl of ‘Nature,’ where increasingly isolated individuals are seeking wholeness and transcendence through ‘the environment’ and ‘collective action’ and ‘(S)cience.’ This process of secular humanization is fast upon us here in the U.S. (much more advanced in Europe).

What occurs at the basic level of conception, and once held in the King James Bible, is now more likely to be ‘revealed’ to be a concern with the environment, or the ‘oppressed.’ Notice it’s not really about (S)cience but a kind of belief-level claim to knowledge and truth. Basically, I see ‘true-belief’ and righteous actors as often making things worse, and typically blaming everyone else in the process.

Do the wretches have something to teach? About what and to whom? Are poets exiles (the ones who imagine themselves as drunks)? What about ministers?

The Drunk In The Furnace

 For a good decade
The furnace stood in the naked gully, fireless
And vacant as any hat. Then when it was
No more to them than a hulking black fossil
To erode with the rest of the junk-hill
By the poisonous creek, and rapidly to be added
          To their ignorance,

                                                                                         
          They were afterwards astonished
To confirm, one morning, a twist of smoke, like a pale
Resurrection, staggering out of its chewed hole,
And to remark then other tokens that someone,
Cosily bolted behind the eyeholed iron
Door of the drafty burner, had there established
          His bad castle.

        
          Where he gets his spirits
It’s a mystery. But the stuff keeps him musical:
Hammer-and-anviling with poker and bottle
To his jugged bellowings, till the last groaning clang
As he collapses onto the rioting
Springs of a litter of car seats ranged on the grates,
         To sleep like an iron pig.

        
          In their tar-paper church
On a text about stoke holes that are sated never
Their Reverend lingers. They nod and hate trespassers.
When the furnace wakes, though, all afternoon
Their witless offspring flock like piped rats to its siren
Crescendo, and agape on the crumbling ridge
          Stand in a row and learn.

W.S. Merwin

What might work better for a lot of us, a lot of the time, but I don’t really know for sure: The Victorian idea of the ‘deserving’ poor. Reality means having to make decisions in a world of limited resources about how to help those not helping themselves. We all have obligations to others, but they largely occur to those we love, and those whom we must honor and protect.

Forgive the photo. My skills are a work in progress, but thanks, as always, for looking.