Reading W.S. Merwin’s ‘Rain Light’ in Dappled Sunlight, We Were Amazed to Learn What ‘Dappled’ Is


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A post shared by The Merwin Conservancy (@themerwinconservancy) on

When we stumbled on this lovely way to read Rain Light by W.S. Merwin, through dappled sunlight with bird song, it took our breath away for a moment as we rode on the New York City subway…

…Such beauty “even though the whole world is burning”...


Escaping Flatland by Edward Tufte


Then, we came upon an image of Edward Tufte’s Escaping Flatland sculpture, also in dappled light. Tufte, a brilliant explainer of visual things — he is the author of Envisioning Information — told just what was happening:

Dappled light is produced when sunlight is flitered through the leaves of trees. The dapples result not because tree leaves have elliptical holes in them but rather because the leaves combine to make many tiny pinhole cameras, which then produce multiple images of the sun’s surface on nearby projection surfaces. Thus each dapple is an image of the surface of the sun. If there is a large sunspot on the surface on the sun, that spot will appear within each dapple.


…each dapple is an image of the surface of the sun.



Tiny video found at the Merwin Conservancy’s instagram.

4 Responses to Reading W.S. Merwin’s ‘Rain Light’ in Dappled Sunlight, We Were Amazed to Learn What ‘Dappled’ Is

  1. Jim Dillon 07.23.2019 at 7:32am #

    Long ago in Iowa, I noticed something odd about the shade under the trees during an eclipse. Sure enough, the crescent shape of the sun was reproduced hundreds of times at different sizes by the spaces between the leaf-shadows. During the total eclipse the other year, I played around and found that a colander projected a thousand tiny crescents wherever I wanted. Delightful!

  2. Cara De Silva 07.23.2019 at 8:15am #

    Speaking of dappling, Pied Beauty” has been one of my favorite poems for decades. It is by the great Gerard Manley Hopkins, a 19th century English Jesuit.

    Glory be to God for dappled things –
    For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
    Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
    Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
    All things counter, original, spare, strange;
    Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
    He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
    Praise him.

  3. Sally Schneider 07.23.2019 at 12:09pm #

    That is sublime! Thank you, Cara.

  4. Sally Schneider 07.23.2019 at 12:12pm #

    YES!!!! I noticed that too during the last eclipse and found some images of it which I posted here. But somehow, I hadn’t made the connection to dappled light, that what we are seeing is the shape and surface of the sun…

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