Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thank you: a warm, cozy house


Next week Thursday my country celebrates thank you. No fireworks. No pink hearts or leprechauns.
No gift buying. In the holiday year, Thanksgiving remains a warm, cozy house with flickering lamp and candle light, with leaves of bittersweet orange and tawny saffron spread on the table. The smells and tastes that hum from the kitchen as we glide and bump around each other jockeying for space to chop, blend with the mixer, stuff the turkey, or watch the Lions play football whisper warmth, and love, and thank you. I rejoice. I simply rejoice.

It's a time when words are hard to find, because either they feel clichéd, or we don't know how to be grateful for the tragedies of existence, while also being thankful for what we hold dear. The words of my dear friend and former boss Ed ring in my ears when I asked him how to thank someone who had written a powerfully supportive recommendation letter for me, for my current job. Wise Ed said, "Sometimes there is nothing more valuable than a simple, heartfelt, thank you."

In the gliding and bumping heart prep for Thanksgiving week, I'd like to share THE DOG-EARED PAGE from the hard copy November issue of The Sun, which touches me, and perhaps will also meet your heart. (I don't believe THE DOG-EARED PAGE can be found in the online edition.) The text below about Merwin is copied directly from The Sun.

by W.S. Merwin

New York City-born poet William Stanley Merwin has written more than thirty books of poetry, translation, and prose. A Buddhist and environmentalist, he often addresses humankind's separation from nature in his work. His writing has received two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Book Award, and in 2010, at the age of eighty-two, Merwin was appointed the Library of Congress's Poet Laureate. Since the late 1970s he has lived in Hawaii on a former pineapple plantation that he has restored to its original rain-forest state. "Thanks" was first published in The Rain in the Trees by W. S. Merwin, copyright 1988 by W. S. Merwin. 

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
talking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities
growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is



Susan said...

Sometimes simple is best. Thank you.

Bonnie said...

Thank you.

J.G. said...

Stunned into the territory of almost no words, except (of course) thank you. Thinking my thanks to Merwin, as well.

Marcie said...

Thank-you! For this. For sharing. For the sweetness and simplicity of these two words!

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

Gracias, gracias, gracias ...

George said...

How lovely! And thank you for all of your wonderful postings, your joie de vivre, and your presence.

Ramblings by Carol Nuckols said...

This is beautiful. I'll add my thanks to all the others.

deb said...

God , I love poetry sometimes.

and Ruth?

thank you.

Oliag said...

I don't think I have ever heard of The Sun thank you for that! And thank you for sharing these beautiful photos...I love your pitcher full of feathers. And yes I could keep going on but will simply say a sincere Thanks:)

Margaret Bednar said...

Thank you. Simple words, but this poem is not simple for me. Maybe one of my faults with reading poetry is I want to know exactly what the author meant. Will says it is whatever speaks to my heart. That drives me crazy...what if I am wrong? Or just too "stupid" to get the meaning (of which I fear is often). I read the poem 3 times and had 3 different ideas. I come away with different, conflicting images and ideas. All of which are really good meditative concepts. I will continue to read the posts and see if all will be made clear. Love the photography - I always do,.

ellen abbott said...

Thanksgiving is becoming/has become a forgotten holiday for precisely all the reasons you mentioned. No fireworks, no hearts, no costumes, no gifts. It's full on christmas on the TV and in the stores and has been since two days after Halloween. thanksgiving is my son's favorite holiday in our family because it is the one we all share regardless of whatever (or none) religious tradition we follow.

Barb said...

Thank You, Ruth - I loved the poem.

Expat From Hell said...

The Sun - one of my all-time favorite publications. Thank you for that, too! Also for the great thoughts and concepts - it is indeed warm and cozy here. Feliz dia de gracias. EFH

Char said...

i was taught this by a mentor of mine. too often we try to deflect thank yous or discount them by saying "it was nothing"...when we should remember to simply say thank you or, when warranted, a simple you're welcome.

in this case, thank you for reminding us of this bit of graceous living that should be in all of our lives.

Inge said...

Thank you for the reminder, Ruth.

The Bug said...

I have a lot to be thankful for this year - I think Mr. Merwin (and you) have inspired me to write a poem to read at our family gathering. Thanks!

♥ Kathy said...

Simply beautiful Ruth. Thank YOU. ♥

lakeviewer said...

What a beautiful post, and a remarkable poem to fill our heart. Thank You.

Deborah said...

Ruth, my impression of the Thanksgiving holiday to the south has been that it was much more of an event - commerically so - than you describe. I was so wrong! I don't know why I thought this, but perhaps it's because our American neighbours always seem to outdo us in the matter of celebration.

I would love to be in your house on Thanksgiving, being in that kitchen preparing a meal. Sitting at your table. Perhaps, if I don't forget, I'll just close my eyes for a moment on the day and picture you there. Saying i thank you .

cathyswatercolors said...

Hi Ruth, Thanksgiving and thanks be to you,for you thought provoking posts.
All day i have been walking around with a lump in my throat ready to cry at the drop of a hat.... no doubt it is the holiday season,my first without my friend.
Still, through the tears i am thankful for having had the chance to be her friend and bask in her love,friendship and support.

Beautiful windy,rainy day,today.
xoxo cb

Jeanie said...

I, too, love Thanksgiving for its warmth, its love, its recognition of all things we value and for our own fortune. I've never read this wonderful poem -- so thank YOU for introducing it to me. And for giving us all such a special and thought-provoking place to visit so very often. Your photographs seem to capture all this season is. Bravo, my friend.

Friko said...

I cannot comment on Thanksgiving apart rom saying that I wish you and all you hold dear a very happy and heartwarming one.

The poem I read with very mixed feelings. Perhaps I don't understand its message. Some of it seems almost threatening to me, the relentless 'thank you' in the face of horrors which are alluded to in passing. Thank you, always thank you, seems like slavery.

I am awfully sorry to spoil the atmosphere, perhaps i had better got back and read it again.

Friko said...

Dear me, still very sorry, but I simply don't understand the sentiment.
My life has taught me to be wary and mistrustful on occasion and before I say a blanket 'thank you' I must examine the gift for what it is.

I do hope you will reply to this comment, perhaps you can show me that I can't see the wood for the trees.

Loring Wirbel said...

Did you read the interview with Merwin in the November Progressive magazine? Very good.

Wow, being thankful for simply being a sentient being existing on this planet seems self-evident...

Margaret Bednar said...

I thought about this all day and read it three more times. We say thank you, but are we giving thanks. Are we appreciative for the favor that was done, the life that was lead, the gift of nature, etc? Sometimes the thank you is too quickly said, almost recited. Most of the visitors here today found comfort in this poem, it left me sad. Thinking I need to embrace what I have now and not take it for granted. To appreciate it before it is gone. And slowly, meaningfully, look around me each day in thanks giving.

Ruth said...

Susie, you're welcome. And thank you.

Ruth said...

Bonnie, you're welcome. Thank you.

Ruth said...

J.G., that is how I felt as well, reading this poem. For me, it is transporting, and transformative. I admire Merwin a great deal. He was one of the first poets I discovered when I turned to poetry as a way through a crisis back in the early 1990s.

Ruth said...

Marcie, they are simple words between people. They can seem a simple statement to the world, but they can take a great deal of going against the stream to say, and feel, in the face of many tormenting things. How sweet you are, Marcie.

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, de nada, y gracias, a usted.

Ruth said...

George, thank you, I'm glad you liked this. You are welcome. I'm so grateful you're here with me . . . wonderfully present in my joy of life.

Ruth said...

Welcome, Carol, and thank you.

Ruth said...

Deb, yes. Poetry. When it says what can't be said another way.

Thank you, Deb.

Ruth said...

Oliag, I think you would like The Sun. There are no ads. Sy Safransky has a beautiful take on life, the editor. Inge has been giving me a subscription for years, and I just love it. I quite like those feathers too, in the tableau on Lesley's piano. Thank you, my friend.

Ruth said...

Dear Margaret. I love your openness and honesty. The truth is I don't "get" many poems myself. My poetry mentor, Diane Wakoski always taught me that if a poem is good, it provides plenty of material to be "interpreted" in many ways, by various readers. I don't worry too much about meaning either, like Will. I'd love to sit and "workshop" this poem with you and hear your 3 takes. For me, Merwin is shining a light on the heart of Thanksgiving in this country, that we who celebrate it keep celebrating it as a choice of thanks, in spite of the terrible things that happen. We just keep saying thank you, not for those terrible things, but in spite of them.

I'm glad you like the photos. The woven rug is a very, very old Navajo one that my great grandparents picked up somewhere in the Southwest, probably at least 75 years ago. It is one of my treasures.

Ruth said...

Ellen, it's interesting isn't it, how Thanksgiving is the holiday to take a hit, but Christmas never will, I think. The absence of religion and presence of a spirit of thankfulness makes it truly special.

Ruth said...

Barb, I'm glad the poem spoke to you too. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Kent, I love finding another lover of The Sun. I get such a thrill when I see it in the mailbox each month. I even love reading about the contributers, and the letters to the editor, Sy Safransky. I'm so glad you felt warm and cozy here. Gracias y feliz dia.

Ruth said...

Hi, Char. It sounds as though you, too, have/had a wise mentor, as I did in Ed. These discoveries come with time, I think, as we age. Having someone model the simple graces is a profound gift. I learn best by example. Thank you, Char, and you're welcome.

Ruth said...

Thanks, and you're welcome, Inge.

Ruth said...

Dana, I love that. A thanksgiving poem read by you is a perfect way to lift everyone's spirits, after your recent fears. Hallelujah!

Ruth said...

♥ Kathy, I know you enjoy life's simplest things. Enjoy your family. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Lakeviewer, I'm quite glad the poem met you where it met me too. Thank you.

Pat said...

Thank you for this lovely post.

I have a lot to be thankful for.... even the simplest things, too.

Bella Rum said...

Perfect post for this season or any season. Thank you for sharing your wonderful perspective on this site.

Meri said...

I'll have to thumb through my Merwin volume to see if that particular poem is in it.

Ruth said...

Deborah, I'm embarrassed to confess to you that I did not know about Canadian Thanksgiving until I started blogging and met Canadians. I truly do feel that this is the one American holiday (that we share with you, on a different day) that is almost free of commercial pressure. We happen to have our own turkey (and a few to share with others) here on the farm, so we aren't even buying that. We'll be at my in-laws this year, the first time in a long time, since everyone usually comes to the farm. You are most welcome to join us, and I hope you will feel our love.

Ruth said...

Dear Cathy, the bittersweet is laid on the table for you. The holidays are just so hard, especially the first, after a loss like yours. The wind and the rain join you in your grief and tears, and they are also sustaining too, in their power. Hold yourself gently, my friend.


Babs-beetle said...

We don't celebrate Thanksgiving in the UK, but Mo and I are always very thankful for everything in our lives. If something bad happens, we are thankful that it wasn't far worse.

Ruth said...

Hello there, Friko. Thank you so much for your Thanksgiving wish for me and my family.

Thank you also for your honesty and openness about your response to Merwin's poem. I can understand your point, because just saying thank you in the face of the tragedies of life, if it is an auto-response without deep concern for those affected, is cruel and disturbing. Also, saying thank you too quickly, without feeling the gift and its meaning from the giver, is thoughtless.

For myself, what Merwin is doing in "Thanks" is showing that at Thanksgiving, we stop the world for a few hours. We know it is still there in its griefs. We feel the sorrows, some of us deeply affected by events of recent days (a mother-in-law diagnosed with breast cancer, a nephew's partner suddenly dead, for instance). But we keep the day. We keep it by saying "thank you" anyway, for something that keeps giving itself to us. We choose thank you as a motion of life, a way forward, in spite of the horrors and sorrows. We say thank you in spite of all that, not for it, although I think this could also be argued as something to consider doing. But we'd need to be sitting face to face for that.

I'm grateful for your willingness to speak your thoughts when you know they were different than the others here.

dirt clustit said...

Thank you for this post Ruth. It is good to remember to give thanks or show appreciation for all I have, no matter what I my feel I do not have or have lost. Being born a citizen of United States of America I feel I often forget how I am provided with
so much while the majority of others are provided with much less and sadly some provided with nothing while at the same time having the very things they struggled to obtain wrongly taken away. It seems such atrocities occur because of their place of birth and or the timing they were brought into this world and given life.

And still I have so many other reasons why I feel I need to be thankful. This is how Merwin's poem made me feel.

Seems appropriate that it was reprinted in a publication called The Sun. As energy can be neither created nor destroyed and every joule (a standard measurement of energy used for calculations) every joule of energy that passes through our world or gets stored on this planet in any form, like crude oil, and every joule was beamed here with it's point of origin being the sun.

The sun that rises and sets like clock work which has never failed as I have witnessed.

thank you for this post (my thanks are rarely simple :)

Ruth said...

Loring, no, I didn't see that! I'll look for it at Schuler Books tonight when I go with Inge.

Ruth said...

Jeanie, I skipped you! Sorry 'bout that.

Thank you for your kind words, as always. Your radiant thankful heart is always a bright sunrise on my horizon.

Ruth said...

Margaret, it's such a good thing, to examine my heart and see if thanks is really there, when I say thank you, and even when I don't.

The poem left you sad. I am not certain from your comment how it did so, what about it made you feel sad. Do you feel Merwin is glib and superficial here?

The result, that you want to embrace what you have, and not to take it for granted, to look into the essence of all that's around you and absorb and appreciate it, that is so marvelous. It's something I need reminding of every day.

Ruth said...

Pat, what I love about you is how much you pay attention to everything. Your beautiful humor takes you up one side and down the other, of this country of ours. I'm so glad you're here. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Hi, Bella. Thank you for saying that. You have had so many challenges to an attitude of thankfulness, and your positive spirit keeps blessing me and your other readers, and I'm sure those who live with and around you.

Ruth said...

Hi, Meri, the poem is in The Rain in the Trees, but perhaps it is also in other collections, I don't know. I appreciated your joy post today very much.

Ruth said...

Babs, I love that so much! Well you know I love you and Mo so much. You make me so happy.

Ruth said...

Dusti, I love your comment. You like language (love?), and so finding ways for words to dance and express your thoughts and feelings is enjoyable to you.

Knowing you as I do, I know you recognize how bad things can be here in this country of ours. You never turn away from the atrocities, you look them square in the face and tell them off. At the same time I always know there is a deep appreciation in you, for the bounties around you, and they are about love, always. Do you know how that blesses me?

That energy can neither be created nor destroyed is one of the most beautiful realities of existence, I feel. Thank you for the word joule, which I didn't know. I had to look it up to be sure you weren't doing one of your spelling transformations from jewel. :)

I'm thankful for you, Dusti.

Friko said...

Dear Ruth

Thank you for your careful and thoughtful comment.
Yes, I now see Merwin's direction and your reason for choosing the poem for 'Thanks Giving'.

I have read the poem again, also very carefully, line by line, and I find that I could read it as if Merwin were accusing us of saying thank you, mouth full of food, blindly, cosily, in the face of disasters, death and destruction, 'going on , going on, saying 'thank you'.

Dancing on the volcano, we say thank you, faster and faster.

Oh my dear Ruth, I must copy the poem. I must read it over and over again.
It is beginning to frighten me. There is a desperation here which is truly frightening.

I know a lady here, a devout Christian and minister's wife, who will say, in a world full of hardship, disaster, pain and anguish: "I don't hear anybody giving 'thanks' anymore. She means it.

I'm afraid I hate her for her lack of sensitivity and want to slap her face.

Ruth said...

Dear Friko, thank you so very much for returning to continue this conversation.

I had awful chills when I read your reading, that Merwin's poem could be read as an accusation. Of course! How interesting that I, and most readers here, did not see it that way. But if read that way, it truly is frightening. It reminds me of the poem by Wendell Berry I have on the sidebar, The Peace of Wild Things, which begins When despair for the world grows in me . . . ...

I actually don't see any reason a person can't decipher the poem that way. As I said before to Margaret, a good poem provides readers with material that allow multiple "interpretations".

My limited sense of Merwin is that while he despairs over the state of the world, he holds hope, and that this poem is about his own thanks and that of his fellow countrymen and women. I'd like to share another of his poems here, in response:

To the Consolations of Philosophy

by W. S. Merwin
Thank you but
not just at the moment

I know you will say
I have said that before
I know you have been
there all along somewhere
in another time zone

I studied once
those beautiful instructions
when I was young and
far from here
they seemed distant then
they seem distant now
from everything I remember

I hope they stayed with you
when the noose started to tighten
and you could say no more
and after wisdom
and the days of iron
the eyes started from your head

I know the words
must have been set down
partly for yourself
unjustly condemned after
a good life

I know the design
of the world is beyond
our comprehension
thank you
but grief is selfish and in
the present when
the stars do not seem to move
I was not listening

I know it is not
sensible to expect
fortune to grant her
gifts forever
I know

Ruth said...

. . . and again, this last poem I posted in the comment above, could be interpreted broadly. Is he saying he is selfishly embedded in grief? Or is he saying he is not, and he accuses those who turn to philosophy for consolation of being selfish? Or both? ....

Terresa said...

Beautiful Merwin. He is beyond words, beyond thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving, Ruth.

Peter said...

Thank you!!! ... for this post and all the preceding ones! We often forget the even simple "thank you", so now I say it ... and I mean it!

rauf said...

When i did not respond to my Cousin Moin's attempts to drag me to a mosque on the day of Eid, he said why are you angry with God what has HE done to you. i said i have to be thankful to Him instead. i have no worries, have no health issues, have no worry of losing as i own nothing except my camera, which also is shared by other friends. A poor man's camera is everybody's camera. Except for the problems of my friends and family, which keep me busy, i have none of my own. i thank the wall, i thank the door, i thank the train i thank the bus, i thank the flash light when i am lost in the dark. i thank when the power comes back
i thank the farmer, most of all for keeping me alive and i thank you Ruth for being there.

rauf said...

Yes i thank the sun and i thank the rain and i thank the earth Ruth, sorry i forgot

Margaret Bednar said...

Forests are falling faster, cities are growing over, people running about... the pace seems to pick up, almost frenzied. Nobody is listening and they are waving in the dark. These images seem almost a warning to me. A warning that tells us, if we truly care, if we are filled with thankfulness, we will DO something about it. is dark and nobody can see...

I always tell my kids (in my opinion) the most important thing to get out of Christianity is that Jesus LOVED. It is a VERB. If we don't LIVE that word, DO that word, then we really aren't fulfilling what we believe. Thanksgiving is a form of love. Meaningless thanks is worthless.

I have to go read your other poem now, I know I will have plenty of time tonight to ponder it ... can you believe Spencer is sick AGAIN. This time it is fever. Two of my girls have the other croupy thing. Ahhhh, Ruth, but I give THANKS! LOL

emily wierenga said...

oh, i felt my heart race with this one, with the thank you's colliding... such beautiful spirit in this, ruth.

Margaret Bednar said...

Another thought on the poem "Thanks". Merwin refers to "we". And I think some are frantic with their thanks, others are sincere. It's just that they seem to be losing the race, waving in the dark. But there is still hope, that by their good example, a few can change the crowd. In "Philosophy" I loved "grief is selfish" and "it is not sensible to expect fortune to grant her gifts forever". Great lines packed with so much wisdom. Living a thank-filled life 24/7, good times AND especially the tough times. It can be compared to love then. We love through the thick and the thin (no, I'm not referring to John's receding hair line :) sickness & in health. We need to love MORE during the tough times, so, I guess, we need to say "thank you" more during trying times as well. Not a bad way to spend our years here on earth with a loving and thankful heart...

Ruth said...

Terresa, thank you, and Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

Ruth said...

Peter, thank you very much. And thank you for all you share of my favorite city!

Ruth said...

rauf, there is no end of thanks yous, I think. For a while, I told you, I was saying a prayer of thanks before every meal, attempting to think about and thank the people who brought me this food, as you say, the farmers especially.

I have many things to thank you for, rauf. I never stop saying thanks for you actually.

Ruth said...

Margaret, yes, we will do something about it, starting with our own minds and hearts. I think the thankfulness is the most important part, and it becomes action, it can't help it actually. It is the opposite, complaint and hate and anger, resistance, that clogs up the engines and slows the whole thing down. When I resist, I become stressed. Pure and simple. But when I am open to what is, with a heart of thanksgiving, everything is transformed. I mean this with 100% sincerity, because I have tried it both ways, and I know.

You're right. It is really just love.

I'm so sorry your Spencer is sick again. I am very sure your family is thankful for you for taking such good care of them. Take care.

Ruth said...

Emily, yes, I felt the "chaos" of thanks as a powerful thing. I'm glad you connected with it that way too.

Ruth said...

Oh yes, Margaret, I was especially struck by that too, "grief is selfish". I was sharing it with Inge last night. Of course we have to be selfish some of the time, we have to move through grief, because if we don't and try to avoid it, it will sit there waiting to be visited. But to choose it without openness to healing is selfish, I think.

What you say about loving even more during the tough times reminds me of a man I heard speak once who had come out of political imprisonment after many years, and whose spirit seemed purified and gleaming. He said, "Things will get tougher in the years ahead, in our circumstances. But our spirits will be stronger and love better and more." I noticed this two years ago when the economy tanked, at least in myself. After I despaired for about 24 hours, I started noticing that my spirit rose to others who were reaching out to help those around them. I wanted to do the same.

*jean* said...

wow...thank you, indeed...will have to ponder this poem...your photos are really beautiful...a glimpse of ruth

Ginnie said...

You have heard me say before, Ruth, my favorite of all Shakespeare's words: "I can no other answer make but thanks and thanks and ever thanks."

Thank you. Thanks.