Words That Inspire: The Laughing Thrush

Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin believes that it’s natural to love being in the world around us. His poem, "The Laughing Thrush," captures a sense of place with rich details and abundant joy.
Poet Laureaute W.S. Merwin

W.S. Merwin, at hi home on a former pineapple plantation in Maui, Hawai'i.

Photo by Tony Novak-Clifford

The Laughing Thrush

by W.S. Merwin

O nameless joy of the morning

tumbling upward note by note out of the night
and the hush of the dark valley
and out of whatever has not been there

song unquestioning and unbounded
yes this is the place and the one time
in the whole of before and after
with all of memory waking into it

and the lost visages that hover
around the edge of sleep
constant and clear
and the words that lately have fallen silent
to surface among the phrases of some future
if there is a future

here is where they all sing the first daylight
whether or not there is anyone listening

"The Laughing Thrush" From The Shadow of Sirius, copyright 2009 by W.S. Merwin, published by Copper Canyon Press, coppercanyonpress.org.


Note to educators:

Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin’s poem The Laughing Thrush conveys a deep connection to a special place and moment—and an intimate knowledge of it as well.

Read the poem with your class. Direct your students to listen to how Merwin slows down time and observes the rich details of the early morning. Now ask your students to picture a special place. Perhaps this place is from their childhood. Ask a couple of students to describe their place, the time of day, the smells, and the seasonal aspects.

Settled with an image in mind, have each student begin their poem of place by borrowing the first line of Merwin’s poem, “O nameless joy of morning ….” Or, revise the line to afternoon or evening.

Ask your students to reflect on the following when writing their poems:

  • Describe with all senses—what do you see, hear, smell, and feel? What textures are present? Notice the season and time of day.
  • Borrow this wise poet's eyes and observe the small joys in your world.
  • Where are you in relation to this place? Are you seated on a bench? On the grass? Standing on a rooftop?
  • Think of this place in relationship to time. Who or what may have been here yesterday or even 100 years ago? What about 100 years from now?

Consider sending each student home with the assignment of finding a special place and writing of it with open eyes and ears.

Taking time to be quiet and observe is challenging for lots of people. Celebrate this quiet by sharing your students’ poems.

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