Plum Island and W. S. Merwin’s poem Shore Birds

Piping plovers

Plum Island is a sliver of a refuge on the north shore of Massachusetts. The parking is limited, the swallows swarm, the precious and hapless piping plovers are protected.

If you get to Plum Island early and pay your $5 at the gate house, you might find a parking place in one of the small lots along the island. I walked there late, late in the day and “in the light of late summer” as Merwin remembered it, a light which is sweet and sad and warm around here.

Shore Birds by W. S. Merwin

While I think of them they are growing rare
after the distances they have followed
all the way to the end for the first time
tracing a memory they did not have
until they set out to remember it
at an hour when all at once it was late
and newly silent and the white had turned
white around them then they rose in their choir
on a single note each of them alone
between the pull of the moon and the hummed
undertone of the earth below them
the glass curtains kept falling around them
as they flew in search of their place before
they were anywhere and storms winnowed them
they flew among the places with towers
and passed the tower lights where some vanished
with their long legs for wading in shadow
others were caught and stayed in the countries
of the nets and in the lands of lime twigs
some fastened and after the countries of
guns at first light fewer of them than I
remember would be here to recognize
the light of late summer when they found it
playing with darkness along the wet sand

2 thoughts on “Plum Island and W. S. Merwin’s poem Shore Birds

  1. Your comments and Merwin’s poem Shore Birds certainly capture the mood of that lovely Plum Island. I remember it well, even though it has been many years since Gordon and I walked that peaceful stretch of beach.


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