Thursday, July 29

Mindful Monday: Dark Though It Is

I posted this poem (see below) by W.S. Merwin a month ago, but it keeps drawing me back, so I'm posting it again for another look.

At first glance, the poet makes what seems an absurd assumption: that we are or should be ever-thankful for the myriad ways we suffer. Say what? Thank you for pain, horror, disease, loneliness, and humiliation? The gall! The guy must be cruel or crazy.

If we peer through a Buddhist lens, however, perhaps the poem means that it is to our benefit to say thank you to whatever pain comes because, used well, it keeps us keenly aware of the sorry fact that each one of us will suffer and die, and in so knowing, we cannot help but be compassionate to ourselves and others. We say thank you, not despite the fact that we will suffer and die but because of it. Give thanks, though no one may be listening, for the gob-smacking, beautiful happenstance of having been born, and give thanks for misfortune and death. Knowing that ultimately we are all in the same cold boat, we also wake up to knowing that each of us deserves nothing but the most profound kindness. For this insight, dark though it is, we say thank you.

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
smiling 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
our lost 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.

Can you say thank you for your current difficulty or suffering without feeling masochistic? 🙂

Cabo da Roca...

for Mindful Monday

© January 5, 2015, post: Donna Pierce
Source: Merwin, W. S. The Rain in the Trees. NY: Knopf. 1988.
Photo credit: "Cabo da Roca," by Joao Almeida, 2008.


  • The real trick — if so flippant a word may be used in this context — is to say “Thank you” for the suffering of OTHERS. I might be able — just barely — to be thankful, in your sense, for my own suffering. But if my wife were suffering from, say, stage-4 breast cancer (she isn’t), I’d have a hellacious time being thankful, in any sense, for that.

    • jrcowles, no kidding, whew. As a person who becomes easily anxious, I look incredulously at this poem and this possible interpretation: “Thank you for one horrendous reminder after another that we suffer and die”? I want to push it away, resist, futilely fight against what cannot be defeated. And there’s the very problem, the primary reason for my anxiety. Maybe W.S. Merwin knows we’ll say thank you with tears streaming down our faces.

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