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DECEMBER NIGHT, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

"December Night" by William Stanley Merwin explores the interaction between nature and the human experience, capturing an atmosphere steeped in reflection and solitude. The poem starts with a contrasting image: "The cold slope is standing in darkness / But the south of the trees is dry to the touch." These lines immediately evoke a sense of place and atmosphere. The "cold slope" symbolizes a harsh, perhaps unforgiving aspect of life or nature, while the "south of the trees," which is dry, introduces a contrasting element, one that seems more benign or perhaps even comforting.

The trees' "heavy limbs climb into the moonlight bearing feathers," a vivid depiction that imbues the natural world with a sense of purpose and even agency. The "feathers" might represent fragility or grace, attributes often ascribed to nature in its purest form. It's also worth noting the speaker came specifically to "watch these" phenomena, suggesting a meditative or contemplative state.

"White plants older at night / The oldest / Come first to the ruins" - these lines speak to both the transience and permanence inherent in nature. Plants that appear older in the darkness of night suggest a cycle of life that's both ancient and continuously renewing. The "ruins" can represent decay or the end of a particular life cycle, yet they are not lifeless; they attract the "oldest" elements of nature, creating a rich tapestry of existence that spans time.

The magpies "kept awake by the moon" stand as vigilant observers, much like the speaker. Their wakefulness implies a shared experience or perhaps a shared loneliness. The moon as a force that keeps them awake could be seen as a symbol for a universal curiosity or wonder that affects all creatures.

"The water flows through its / Own fingers without end"-water, often a symbol for life and renewal, is described as flowing endlessly, perhaps a statement on the inevitable passage of time, or the ongoing cycle of life and death. It flows through its "own fingers," emphasizing autonomy and perhaps the self-contained wisdom inherent in natural processes.

The closing lines, "Tonight once more / I find a single prayer and it is not for men," encapsulate the poem's core theme. In his communion with nature, the speaker finds a "single prayer," a moment of spiritual significance. Significantly, this prayer "is not for men," emphasizing a focus away from human concerns towards something more elemental, perhaps universal.

"December Night" is a study in contrasts and harmonies, capturing the dichotomies of cold and warmth, darkness and light, solitude and interconnectedness. Through a focused lens on a specific natural scene, Merwin delves into the complexities of existence, offering an evocative snapshot that transcends the immediate moment to touch upon universal themes.

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