Edward Brunner on "The Asians Dying"

In the closing group, death is an occurence that links us with others. This realistic acknowledgment of death can appear with the old abstract concept in the same poem; it is one reason why the ending of "The Asians Dying" is so powerful. In the middle of the poem, Merwin uses "the dead" to speak of persons who were once alive: "Rain falls into the open eyes of the dead / Again again with its pointless sound / When the moon finds them they are the color of everything." Their "open eyes" also proclaim their status as individuals, not generic categories. Like the animals who would "look carefully" and return the glance of the poet in "The Animals," perhaps even speaking back to him, these too would look back accusingly if they could. But at the end of the poem, the old abstract, categorical idea of death emerges again, as "the possessors moved everywhere under Death their star." For the possessors, death is as remote as a star, an emblem calling them forward in their rapacious progress; it is a concept, having nothing to do with individuals. The two versions of death radically distinguish Asians from Americans, a distinction underscored with irony: the death the Asians experience leaves them with their eyes open; the death star under which the possessors march leaves them as blind as ever.