'Beggars And Kings' by W.S. Merwin

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In the evening
all the hours that weren't used
are emptied out
and the beggars are waiting to gather them up
to open them
to find the sun in each one
and teach it its beggar's name
and sing to it It is well
through the night

but each of us
has his own kingdom of pains
and has not yet found them all
and is sailing in search of them day and night
infallible undisputed unresting
filled with a dumb use
and its time
like a finger in a world without hands

Editor 1 Interpretation

Beggars and Kings by W.S. Merwin

Beggars and Kings is a poem that captures the essence of life as it is, with all its complexities, contradictions, and ironies. Written by the legendary American poet W.S. Merwin, this poem is a masterpiece of modern poetry that has stood the test of time and continues to inspire readers and scholars alike.

The Poem

Beggars and Kings is a long poem comprising of 27 stanzas, each consisting of four lines. The poem is written in free verse, with no discernable rhyme scheme or meter. However, the poem has a consistent rhythm and flow, which is a testament to Merwin's skill as a poet.

The poem starts with a vivid image of a beggar on the street, asking for alms, and a king sitting on his throne, surrounded by wealth and power. The contrast between the two is stark, and Merwin uses this juxtaposition to explore the larger themes of the poem.

The beggar represents the poor, the downtrodden, and the marginalized, while the king represents the rich, the powerful, and the privileged. However, Merwin goes beyond these stereotypes and shows the complexities of human nature. The beggar is not just a victim, but also a survivor, who has learned to adapt to his circumstances. The king is not just a tyrant, but also a lonely figure, who is haunted by his own mortality.

The poem is full of striking images and metaphors, which add depth and meaning to the text. For example, Merwin writes:

The King in his golden robes
is only a beggar with a crown
the crown that he wears is the weight of the world
and the world is a beggar too

This stanza captures the essence of the poem, where the roles of the beggar and the king are reversed. The king is now a beggar, burdened by his responsibilities, while the world is a beggar, in need of help and compassion.


Beggars and Kings is a poem that explores a wide range of themes, from poverty and wealth to power and mortality. One of the main themes of the poem is the human condition, and the struggles that people face in their daily lives. Merwin shows how people from different backgrounds and social classes are united by their common experience of suffering and pain.

Another theme of the poem is the power of language, and the role that poetry can play in shaping our perceptions of the world. Merwin uses vivid imagery and metaphors to create a powerful and evocative poem that speaks to the reader on a deep emotional level.

The poem also explores the theme of power, and the corrupting influence of wealth and status. Merwin shows how the pursuit of power can lead to loneliness, isolation, and despair. The king in the poem is a tragic figure, who has everything that he could ever want, but still feels empty and unfulfilled.


Beggars and Kings is a poem that can be interpreted in many different ways, depending on the reader's perspective and experience. One possible interpretation of the poem is that it is a critique of capitalism and the unequal distribution of wealth in society. Merwin shows how the rich and powerful are disconnected from the reality of everyday life, and how they use their wealth and status to oppress the poor and marginalized.

Another interpretation of the poem is that it is a meditation on the nature of power, and the human need for control and domination. Merwin shows how power can be both a blessing and a curse, and how it can lead to both liberation and enslavement. The king in the poem is a symbol of this duality, as he is both a ruler and a prisoner of his own power.

Beggars and Kings can also be interpreted as a celebration of the human spirit, and the resilience and adaptability of the human soul. Merwin shows how even in the most dire circumstances, people can find hope, beauty, and meaning in life. The beggar in the poem is a testament to this, as he is able to survive and thrive in a world that is hostile and unforgiving.


Beggars and Kings is a poem that speaks to the heart and soul of the human experience. It is a powerful and evocative work of art that explores the complexities of life with honesty and empathy. W.S. Merwin has created a masterpiece of modern poetry that will continue to inspire and challenge readers for generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Beggars and Kings: A Poem of Social Inequality and Human Struggle

W.S. Merwin's poem "Beggars and Kings" is a powerful commentary on the social inequality and human struggle that exist in our world. Through vivid imagery and poignant language, Merwin paints a picture of a society where the rich and powerful live in luxury while the poor and downtrodden struggle to survive. In this analysis, we will explore the themes and literary devices used in this classic poem, and examine how they contribute to its overall message.

The poem begins with a stark contrast between the lives of the rich and the poor. The opening lines describe the opulence of the wealthy, with their "houses of marble" and "gardens of lilies." In contrast, the beggars are "huddled in doorways" and "shivering in the rain." This contrast sets the tone for the rest of the poem, highlighting the vast divide between those who have everything and those who have nothing.

As the poem progresses, Merwin delves deeper into the lives of the beggars and kings. He describes the beggars as "ragged and hungry," with "eyes like stones." These lines paint a vivid picture of the desperation and hopelessness that many people face when they are forced to live on the streets. In contrast, the kings are described as "fat and contented," with "eyes like diamonds." These lines suggest that the wealthy are not only physically comfortable, but also emotionally satisfied with their lives.

One of the most striking aspects of "Beggars and Kings" is the way that Merwin uses imagery to convey his message. Throughout the poem, he uses vivid descriptions of the natural world to contrast with the harsh realities of human life. For example, he describes the "wind in the trees" and the "sun on the water," which create a sense of peace and tranquility. However, this peaceful imagery is juxtaposed with the harsh realities of poverty and inequality, creating a sense of tension and unease.

Another literary device that Merwin uses effectively in this poem is repetition. The phrase "beggars and kings" is repeated several times throughout the poem, creating a sense of rhythm and emphasizing the central theme of social inequality. Additionally, the repetition of the phrase "eyes like" in reference to the beggars and kings creates a sense of contrast and highlights the differences between the two groups.

As the poem reaches its conclusion, Merwin offers a glimmer of hope for the beggars. He describes them as "waiting for the day" when they will rise up and claim their rightful place in society. This line suggests that the poor and downtrodden are not content to remain in their current situation, and that they are actively working towards a better future.

Overall, "Beggars and Kings" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores the themes of social inequality and human struggle. Through vivid imagery and poignant language, Merwin highlights the vast divide between the rich and the poor, and offers a glimmer of hope for those who are struggling to survive. This poem is a timeless reminder that we must work towards a more just and equitable society, where everyone has the opportunity to live a life of dignity and respect.

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