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preconceived ideas about what it ought to be like, you know. if they like it, they like it. and if they don't like it, they don't pay attention to it. that's much more sensible. >> what poets have influenced you? >> what writers? >> oh, i probably -- >> --also? >> --have been influenced by everybody i've read, from the -- from the very beginning. i was just looking this morning. i was looking for something else on a shelf, and there was a copy of -- my sister had given me for a birthday a few years ago. she'd found the old edition of robert louis stevenson's child's garden of verses, from which my mother read to us as children, which she knew that i loved. and so, you know, i think there's a poem in there, a children's poem, called where go the boats, that i still think is a wonderful, wonderful poem. and there are at least two great
poems that stevenson wrote. the other one is one of the ones -- one of the last poems that he wrote when he was out in samoa, before he died. and it's homesick for scotland. you know, blows the wind today, you know, and -- >> the other thing i notice about your work is well, you've talked about how important listening is. >> yes. >> and you talk about hearing the ocean. and you literally do hear the ocean here. what do you hear, in a poetical sense? >> well, that's what you can't say, isn't it? you know, that's why you have to keep trying, keep trying to say it. oh, i don't know what you can -- what you can say about that. and, you know, you can't ever say these extremely intimate things. i can't -- you can't tell me what the coffee tastes like this morning. can you? >> m-hm, because -- >> you know -- >> because -- [indistinct] >> --words don't do it justice,
or -- >> the words don't do it justice. the words don't begin to do it. >> but that's your language. your forte is language, and you've studied other languages in order to understand this language. shouldn't you be able to explain anything? >> i don't know. but, i mean, all you can do is try, and then sometimes, it's amazing what happens, what you can express. and it's very seldom the subject. i mean, you know everybody used to know some sonnets of shakespeare. do you think shakespeare's sonnets tell you anything about shakespeare's love life? they really don't. you don't know any more about his love life when you read them all carefully, than you did before. but they tell you about something else. they tell you, maybe, about your own love life, and they tell you something about the world at large. i mean, they tell you about the whole thing. i think my favorite line in english poetry is, shall i compare thee to a summer's day.
it is so simple, and there's no answer to it. and what's it about, and who is it addressed to? you don't know anything about it. and yet, you know it -- you can't get it out of your mind, you know. it's absolutely extraordinary. prose is a secondary experience. because it's -- there is a subject, and then there's a poem, then there's a writing about it. but poetry is itself primal experience. i mean, it is -- and that's what children get. i'd done a reading at a university somewhere. and one of the students said, you know, if we read, how should we read? and i said, read it random. and but she said, what kind of guiding is -- is there a guiding principle? and i said, yes, pleasure; read what you like. if it's pure junk, read it anyway. and if it's hallmark greeting cards, read them. but -- because sooner or later, if you really take pleasure in
them, they may lead you to something else. but if -- if the pleasure isn't there, if you're not respecting your own pleasure, you're never gonna get there. you're just gonna be doing -- what -- you're gonna have the opinions you ought to have, and that's of no interest at all, really. >> so often, you feel something resonating, and you don't know why, and you don't know what you're -- >> that's wonderful. >> --responding to. >> that's wonderful, when you don't know why. do you know what a pure feeling is? does -- has anyone ever had a pu feeling? we have mixed feelings all the time, don't we? >> m-hm. >> we even have mixed feelings about what dinner tastes like, the news on the television, or the news on the telephone, or uh, or what someone just said us. we think about it, and we have mixed feelings. the mixed feelings are ourselves. >> but everybody's like that. and uh, this is part of real individual difference, part of the thing that's really interesting about people.
and yet, we go on, thinking, well, that's -- well, that's -- i have conviction about that, this is -- that's the only thing i believe about that. that's nonsense, it's never quite true. [chuckle] ♪ the long waves glide in through the afternoon while we watch from the island from the cool shadow under the trees where the long ridge a fold of the skirt of the mountain runs down to the end of the headland day after day we wake to the island the light runs through the drops on the leaves and we remember like birds where we are night after night we touch the dark island that one we set out for and lie still at last with the island in our arms
hearing the leaves and the breathing shore there are no years anymore only the one mountain and on all sides the sea that brought us narration: unlike many of his friends and colleagues, merwin shunned the notion of an academic career and instead took intermittent jobs that allowed him to make his own writing the center of his life's work. it is perhaps his natural love of literature and languages that lead him to also become a prolific literary translator. his translations of spanish poetry resonated with his wife, paula, well beforehey actually met. they were married in a buddhist ceremony in 1983.
paula merwin: because of his writing and his translating. i began with is translating, and i fell in love with the poems that he chose, which were the poems that i was finding my way to, to translate from the spanish. we both spoke -- speak spanish. and uh, so i used to say, then, without any thought, that i was in love with w.s. merwin. and then i forgot about it, until we finally wound up together, and i was reminded of that. and i certainly didn't feel like getting married again. but about three days after i met him, i did. and that was that. i think we both didn't feel any hesitation at all, coming from a place of uh, some intransigence. [chuckle] merwin: i love being with people, and i love -- i love uh, a small number of dear friends. uh, i like people, but i don't -- i don't want to be surrounded by people all the time. i like to have periods when i'm uh, completely away from people. and uh, loneliness doesn't bother me at all, and -- and uh um, solitude, and those things.
i think wonderful things come out of them. and some of the happiest times of my life have been completely alone. paula merwin: luckily, i have a similar division, and i too, like time to myself, and i go crazy if i don't have it. so it works out. but he really needs a lot of it, to read, and think. and he's always said that writing -- to be a writer, you have to have wide margins. and that's what he means by margins; just unlabeled time, just to let your mind wander, and to seem to be doing nothing. merwin: i think one of the things, and this is something that's harder and harder. i see it happening uh, in my -- in my lifetime. is not to close off your life, so that when something really important comes to you, you
can't recognize it and you can't say, oh, yes, and accept it, and let it be -- and take it in as part of your life, if you can, you know. i remember walking across the campus where i was at the university with some friends, and they were good friends of mine, but they were all talking about the kind of jobs that they wanted to take, and the kind of career that they wanted, and where -- where would be a good place to start it and stay with it for a while, until they moved somewhere else. and i thought, god, i don't want to live that way, you know. that's not the life i want. i don't know what i want to do. i mean, i knew that i wanted to write, i knew i wanted to write poetry. but i didn't know what else i was going to do in my life. but i thought, i don't want to live from one situation to the next situation. i want to live in places. i want to live in a place.
i mean, i care about places, and i thought, i don't know how i'm going to manage that, because, you know. but i did. i mean, i was lucky to be able to do that. there's -- i think, if you -- if you're drawn that way, and if you're open to it, uh, things may come your way, and -- i never had any money. i mean, i really didn't have any money, and that was okay, because i -- you know, i got -- i got tutoring jobs and things that took me to -- to wonderful places, and i met wonderful people. it's not that i don't like teaching. i've taught a little bit, and i love teaching, and i love students, and i love being with them. but i couldn't imagine having an academic career, and having my whole life at a university and going from, what is it, from uh, assistant professors and the way all the way up. i don't mean i'm scornful of other people who do that,
because there are people who -- for whom that's the very thing they should be doing, it wasn't right for me. and i knew that -- i knew that within one semester, i would be so claustrophobic that i couldn't wait to get going, you know. ♪ narration: merwin's epic poem, the folding cliffs, embodies his love of hawaiian history, culture and language, as well as his "aloha i ka 'aina, a phrase that expresses a deep love and attachment to place. the poem retells a true story, and is set in late 19th century hawaii, when hansen's disease tore at the very fabric of hawaiian society. after being diagnosed with leprosy, koolau, a native hawaiian cowboy, resists arrest, exile and separation from his family by fleeing with his wife piilani and their son kaleimanu
to the remote valley of kalalau on the island of kauai. the folding cliffs chronicles their journey and the complex history of the islands with transcendent vision. leslie: this was a risk you took. merwin: a very big risk. >> big risk, because it's a very dear and well known story in hawaii, the story of koolau, the leper, fleeing from authorities with his wife and son. it's a poetic story with inherent drama to begin with. it's been done by a number of people. d then you had to put yourself in a native hawaiian frame of mind to do it. and it was risky, because this is a state that -- that really doesn't know if you can empathize with the native hawaiian culture. >> wl, i 't kn, either youw.
a i dn't know wt do -- i meani read that story in in -- in a sort of bowdlerized version of it and for well over ten years, uh, i kept thinking about that story. but i didn't -- i wasn't thinking of what i could do with it, 'cause it never occurred to me that i could retell that story. i just thought -- i didn't know about it, but the story, what what actually had happened, haunted me, and i just kept thinking about it, and thinking about them up in the -- in the cliffs, and the army down below, and the whole thing. then i began to uh to want to find out more about it. gradually, i began to woer [indistinct] if anyone -- if it could be written about, it would it -- in the first place, it should be a hawaiian who does it. but the hawaiians aren't doing it. but i still wasn't ready to do it. and i thought, the only way it could be written about is -- i'm
not a historian, and i'm not a velist. but the only way you could tell it would be as a poem, and the and poems, narrative poems, one of the great kinds of narratives in our civilization, western civilization, is in poems. i mean, look, from homer, right on down, you know. >> this is a very long, narrative poem. >> it's thsame length as uh as the iliad or something like that. yes, it is. >> this is incredibly hard to do, to sustain. >> and i talked to frances frazier on kauai, who'd translated the -- the first uh, account of piilani, uh, of the heroine, you know, the hawaiian woman. but, you know, i thought, this is a hawaiian story, i've got no right to deal with this material, because i don't want to seem to be exploiting hawaiian material. and yet, the story wouldn't go away. and i -- and frances was hawaiian, and she wasn't defensive about it at all. she was very interested in my
being interested. and i talked to bruce wichman. bruce -- bruce's family, his grandmother and -- and bruce probably now is -- knows more about the history and mythology of kauai, than anybody alive. and agnes conrad, who had been the head of the state archives, was a wonderful, wonderful woman, and i would -- i was going through all the stuff, and i would be thinking about the documentary stuff and saying, agnes, i wonder whether there are any such thing in -- in the archives. and we would go in there the next time i went to honolulu, and it would all be out on the table, waiting for me, you know. pat boylan, who also had a lot to do with kalaupapa, was -- lped me. we went through the records, kalaupapa records. so -- and at the end of it, i thought, well, there's still lots about this story i don't know. but i don't think anybody's ever going to know more about it, than we know, because i don't think we can find -- nobody can find out more about it. we've been into absolutely every
living record there is. ♪ coming to the morning you make me remember all of the elements the sea remembering all of its waves in each of the waves there was always a sky made of water and an eye that looked once there was the shape of one mountain and a blood kinship with rain and the air for touch and for the tongue at the speed of light in which the world is made from a single star and our ears are formed of the sea as we listen narration: the poet laureate consultant in poetry to the library of congress, more commonly referred to as the
united states poet laureate, is a position that is appointed by the librarian of the united states congress. the poet laureate is entrusted with raising the appreciation for the reading and writing of poetry in the national consciousness, usually through an annual lecture, a reading of his or her own poetry and the introduction of other poets to the library's poetry series. each poet laureate brings something unique to their position and the series. >> well, i'd never wanted it. and i [indistinct] i'm going to say, no, no, no, i'm not gonna do it. and i thought that if i was ever going to do it, it might be now. and the reason for it was that it would be an opportunity to say once for -- and not as a sermon, not at great length, maybe for a couple of
paragraphs, but in a very public, officially public place, what i really believe is the only hopeful relation between our life and the whole of life, uh, and which is one of reverence and respect, and of feeling at one with it. if the other attitude, which is the one that our society is based on is devastating, and it's killing -- it's killing the earth, and it's killing us too. and i just wanted to say that. it's not gonna make any difference, nobody's gonna pay any attention to it. but i thought, you know, i don't want to get to the end of my life, and never have said it in a public way. and uh -- >> you don't think people will pay attention? >> i don't think so. >> what -- people don't pay attention, because they say, oh, yeah, but we have towe have to make a living and we have to do this,
and we have to do that, you know, and we have to -- we need all that oil, and we need all that coal. i mean, when i was in washington in the spring, a friend of mine is the undersecretary of the department of the interior, and uh, we were talking about coal. and uh, i said to him, i grew up in a coalmining town. i hate coal. coal is just awful, it's awful in every way you think about it, it's awful before you get it out of the ground, it's awful getting it out of the ground. it's -- kills people getting it out of the ground, it kills people who are anywhere around its being burned. there's nothing good about coal. he said, we can't get rid of coal. what can you say? you can -- all you can do is say, this is -- you know, the other side of it. and the other side of it, one -- somebody has to keep saying it. because if you're -- if nobody says it -- it's going to be as though, you know, nobody ever warned anyone. maybe it won't make any difference.
still, it's important to say it, don't you think? >> you have hope, and you're used to living with this duality. >> yeah, i think -- i think we all -- we are all doing that, and i think -- i think to try to oversimplify it is false. i don't think that's true. i think one of the things -- you know, having -- having had a minister as a father, and been fascinated by listening to the prophets and to the psalms, and you know, parts of the new testament, and knowing them -- you know, whole bits that i can quote by heart, but um finally, it didn't work for me. and according to the legend -- and buddhism doesn't make any uh, idea about, you know, god wrote -- god wrote this text, and it's absolutely literally true, every bit of it. legend may be legend, you know, but the legend also comes out of something important. and in the legend, um having had
his great experience, uh the buddha's thinking about how can other people have that great experience. and he says 'cause he had this full brahman upbringing, with all of the gods and all of the religious trappings, and everything. she says to himself, yes, but suppose people don't have that, suppose people don't know any that, or suppose people have been taught it, but can believe it. some people just can't believe. he said, what about them? is there anything that nobody can deny? and he thought about that for a while. this is the legend. and he said, yes, there's one thing that nobody can deny; and that's suffering. let's start there. that, to me, is a big, big difference.
that's a reason to pay attention to buddhism. there's a sense in which every minute of our lives, if we pay attention to it, contains the whole of the past, and everything that we remember, and probably a lot of things that we don't remember. they're all righthere in that moment. and sometimes, we see that. sometimes, that's clear to us, and then -- then we forget it, and then we go right on, you know, paying no attention to it. but what makes you think that will go away? i don't know. it's quite possible that that will hang around too. the arts are part of the whole of life. they're very -- they're entirely human, and to humans. but they're always talking about something which is much bigger than we recognize most of the time. i think there's a moment of recognition. and i think that's what the arts are all about, is recognition.
we recognize something, and say, yes, that's it, you know. and that's the real excitement. sometimes, you know, when we've been misled and things, it's just sentimentality, and it really isn't, you know, just sloppiness. but sometimes, it really is the whole thing. the arts are a way of leading us, and of guiding us, and reminding us of that moment when you can suddenly see, that if you ever see the moment complete, you're seeing the whole thing, the whole -- the whole of life. it doesn't mean you can understand it, or that you can explain it, or you can write it down and tell its history, but you can see it, you can recognize it. and you know, something in you wakes up at that moment. and i think this is something we're all capable of. and to drop it, and to pay no attention, and never be able to arrive at that would be really tragic, like not being able to
ever be in love, or ever or ever feel generosity, or anything like that. every time, as you know, if you read poetry, or if you listen to music, any kind of music, you know that every time you hear it, it's different. something -- it responds to something else in you that you didn't even know was there, and -- if you're paying attention to it. and uh, if you abandon this, this isn't gonna happen. some part of us is going to atrophy, and become numb, and disappear and just fall off. and we will be -- we will be lessened by it. i mean, our life will shrink as a result. we may get -- we may make more money, and we may -- we may do all that -- things of that kind. but will we really be richer? i think we won't be.
narration: merwin once said that he would like to be putting life back into the world, rather than taking life out. and certainly, he pours life back into the world not only through his poems and his extraordinary garden that protects endangered species, but also by example, through his everyday practice of mindful living with the earth. w.s. merwin's home and garden will now be preserved through the newly established merwin conservancy, as a legacy that reflects the artistic vision and sustainability practices of one of america's most well-loved poets. >> i think that after a certain time, which is fairly soon after finishing a poem, i'm a different person. i'm not the person who wrote that poem. and i can be -- i can be clever, and sort of improve it in ways. but it won't work.
palestinian family lost their home in jerusalem. she grew up, she said, with a very strong sense of exile. her home is san antonio, texas. she's written or edited 30 books, including two collections of poems from the middle east. >> this is completely a found poem. i didn't make any of these lines up. my son said them all when he was two and three. i copied down thousands of things he said. but i love what william stafford used to say when somebody asked him, "when did you become a poet?" he said, "that's not really the right question. the question is, when did you stop being a poet?" we're all poets when we're little, and some of us just try to keep up the habit. so anyway, this is one boy told me. music lives inside my legs. it's coming out when i talk. i'm going to send my valentines to people you don't even know. oatmeal cookies make my throat
gallop. grown-ups keep their feet on the ground when they swing. i hate that. is it true that all metal was liquid first? i said, "yeah, kind of, molten metal." does that mean if we bought our car earlier they could have served it in a cup? ( laughter ) what if the clock-- this was digital by this time-- said 6:92 instead of 6:30? would you be scared? my tongue is the car wash for the spoon. can noodles swim? my toes are dictionaries. do you need any words? what does minus mean? i never want to minus you. just think-- no one has ever seen inside this peanut before!
. >>diversity is healthy. i mean when you have all this biodiversity, it generally indicates resiliency and that, that's the key to good conservation planning. the question is how do we foster resiliency, how do you keep all this biodiversity around, how do you generate it? well, we may find the answer right here. join me on today's expedition as we explore a land that has been the last refuge for so many, a land that in many respects really is an island - california. >> ♪music.