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Poet Richard Blanco On Giving Thanks In The Face Of Hardship

This Oct. 12, 2015, photo shows a roasted Thanksgiving turkey in Concord, N.H.
Matthew Mead/AP

With the Thanksgiving holiday right around the corner, it’s time for American families to take the time to express gratitude for the important things in their lives. But as W.S. Merwin’s poem "Thanks" explores, we’re saying “thank you,” even in the face of hardship, many times every day.

Presidential Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco joined Boston Public Radio to talk about Merwin’s poem for the latest edition of Village Voice.

He said the poem "Thanks" investigates the role of gratitude in the face of tragedy. Blanco says it heightens those same feelings during fairer weather.

He commented on the intentional ambiguity of the object of the “thank yous” being said in the poem, saying it allows the reader to consider who is deserving of thanks — is it God? Is it ourselves? Our support networks?

For Blanco, the poem also contains a sarcastic underbelly. He said that humans say “thank you” despite injustice and tragedy, possibly keeping us passive and complacent when we could be taking action.

Blanco and Merwin invite readers to dig deep into their feelings of gratitude, to lean into them and to question them, and to channel them toward building a more just world.



W. S. Merwin, 1927


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

Richard Blanco joins us twice a month for Village Voice. He’s a Presidential Inaugural Poet and a professor at Florida International University teaching poetry. His latest project is the fine press book "Boundaries," a collaboration with photographer Jacob Hessler.

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