| In my
youth I lived for a time in the house of some aunts
Following the death of a gentleman with whom they had been intimately connected
Whose ghost tormented them without pity
Making life intolerable for them.
At the beginning I
ignored their telegrams
And their letters composed in the language of another day,
Full of mythological allusions
And proper names that meant nothing to me
Some referring to sages of antiquity
Or minor medieval philosophers
Or merely to neighbors.
To give up the university
just like that
And break off the joys of a life of pleasure,
To put a stop to it all
In order to placate the caprices of three hysterical old women
Riddled with every kind of personal difficulty,
This, to a person of my character, seemed
An uninspiring prospect,
A brainless idea.
Four years, just the
same, I lived in The Tunnel
In the company of those frightening old ladies,
Four years of uninterrupted torture
Morning, noon, and night.
The delightful hours that I had spent under the trees
Were duly replaced by weeks of revulsion,
Months of anguish, which I did my best to disguise
For fear of attracting their curiosity.
They stretched into years of ruin and misery.
For centuries my soul was imprisoned
In a bottle of drinking water!
My spiritualist conception
of the world
Made me feel utterly inferior when facing the facts:
I saw everything through a prism
In the depths of which the images of my aunts intertwined like living
Forming a sort of impenetrable chain mail
Which hurt my eyes, making them more and more useless.
A young man of scanty
means doesn't know what's going on
He lives in a bell jar called Art
Or Lust or Science
Trying to make contact with a world of relationships
That only exist for him and a small group of friends.
Under the influence
of a sort of water vapor
That found its way through the floor of the room
Flooding the atmosphere till it blotted out everything
I spent the nights at my work table
Absorbed in practicing automatic writing.
But why rake deeper
into this wretched affair?
Those old women made a complete fool of me
With their false promises, with their weird fantasies,
With their cleverly performed sufferings.
They managed to keep
me enmeshed for years
Making me feel obliged to work for them:
Purchase and sale of cattle,
Until one night, looking through the keyhole
I noticed that one of my aunts-
Was getting about beautifully on the tips of her toes,
And I came to, knowing I'd been bewitched.
by W.S. Merwin
Antipoems: New and Selected (edited by David Unger), New York,
New Directions, 1985.