It’s my birthday. To mark the occasion, here’s another poem by W. S. Merwin, whose poem Traces provided me with the name for this blog.
OLD MAN AT HOME ALONE IN THE MORNING
There are questions that I no longer ask
and others that I have not asked for a long time
that I return to and dust off and discover
that I’m smiling and the question
has always been me and that it is
no question at all but that it means
different things at the same time
yes I am old now and I am the child
I remember what are called the old days and there is
no one to ask how they became the old days
and if I ask myself there is no answer
so this is old and what I have become
and the answer is something I would come to
later when I was old but this morning
is not old and I am the morning
in which the autumn leaves have no question
as the breeze passes through them and is gone
The question that “has always been me” is “no question at all.” Why? Because if the question is me, the answer can only be me, too … and come on now, what sort of question is that?
Does that make sense?
You’re young, let’s say. In the lovely folly of your shining youth, you keep asking the same question: Is this me? Or maybe this? And for as long as you can remember, you’ve believed that “the answer is something [you] would come to / later when [you were] old.” You’ve assumed that you would come to an answer — find yourself, that is — in due time. As a kind of reward and consolation for becoming old.
Maybe, though, there is no Oz at the end of a yellow-brick road, no treasure buried at the X on the map, no holy grail to discover after a lifelong quest. Maybe “me” always and forever means “different things at the same time.” Maybe, in other words, on this fifty-sixth birthday of mine, in the year 2016, it’s enough to witness and marvel that the “autumn leaves have no question / as the breeze passes through them and is gone.”