When it is time I follow the black dog
into the darkness that is the mind of day
I can see nothing there but the black dog
the dog I know going ahead of me
not looking back oh it is the black dog
I trust now in my turn after the years
when I had all the trust of the black dog
through an age of brightness and through shadow
on into the blindness of the black dog
where the rooms of the dark were already known
and had no fear in them for the black dog
leading me carefully up the blind stairs
The most striking part of this Merwin poem to me is its constant real time narration. We're being told at all times what the narrator sees, what he thinks, what he fears, and in what he trusts. The black dog is omnipresent. A black dog is a classic symbol of death, and in this case, the black dog seems to lead the man peacefully, without fear or alarm, into the afterlife, "up the blind stairs."
He goes by dark, "into the darkness that is the mind of day." That's a confusing sentence, because we seldom associate daytime with darkness. Given the context of the poem, I think this is a direct reference to death. All that the narrator can see is the black dog. The black dog, too, is blind, so we get the sense here that death is not enlightenment, but an end. It's not a frightening end though, because there's no fear hear. Calmness, almost a sense of peace. "...the rooms of the dark were already known and had no fear in them for the black dog leading me carefully up the blind stairs."
The thing that gives this poem its most distinct stylistic feature is its lack of punctuation, sentence distinction, or indeed and formal structure whatsoever. Thoughts flow freely from one to another, sometimes even with a surprised quality ("oh it is the black dog" being a prime example).
Do you find the poem reassuring as I do? I feel like there can be many valid readings of this poem. Let me know in the comments!