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The Language of Nature

W.S. Merwin’s poems are of great lyrical intensity, concerned with darkness and light, the seasons, and the passing of time across landscapes. His lyrics capture the spiritual heartbreak of our time. He illustrates the bittersweet joys of vanishing wilderness in Native Trees, anger at our political wrong-doings in Term, and the emotions that memory can generate in Hearing the Names of the Valley’s.
Merwin uses trees as a symbol of identity, specifically Hawaiian identity, in Native Trees. The first line states, “Neither my father or mother knew the names of the trees where I was born” (pg. 1). The child is curious to know about his culture and past, in which knowing these things forms identity. By asking questions about the trees, the child can have a greater sense of his identity. The parents do not answer his questions about the trees because they do not know the answers to them. “Both my father and mother said they never knew” (pg. 1). The reason to why they might not know the answers may be that the parents have never questioned the “trees” as their child does. It appears that they have accepted the deterioration of their Hawaiian identity while their child longs to find it. “There were no questions, They had forgotten”. The attention of their fingers were focused on the surfaces of furniture (pg. 1). Merwin portrays trees to be more than just a habitat of the land but as important as one’s identity.
Merwin conveys, in the simplicity of language, a sense of political urgency using nature to represent the loss of the Hawaiian’s land. Merwin expressed the idea that nature was a part of everyone and the moment that you decided to harm a part of nature, you were, in actuality, destroying a part of yourself (video in class). In Term, the road, once walked upon by generations of men, represents Hawaii’s land. The people that have taken away this land cannot see that it is more than...

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