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.