W. S. Merwin

W. S. Merwin
Born (1927-09-30) September 30, 1927
New York City
Occupation Poet
Nationality American
Education Wyoming Seminary, Kingston, PA 1944
Alma mater Princeton University
Period 1952–
Genre Poetry, prose, translation
Notable awards PEN Translation Prize
Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
1971, 2009
Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry
Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize
Tanning Prize
National Book Award
United States Poet Laureate
Spouse Dorothy Jeanne Ferry
Dido Milroy
Paula Schwartz (1983–present)

William Stanley Merwin (born September 30, 1927) is an American poet, credited with over fifty books of poetry, translation and prose.[1] During the 1960s anti-war movement, Merwin's unique craft was thematically characterized by indirect, unpunctuated narration. In the 1980s and 1990s, Merwin's writing influence derived from his interest in Buddhist philosophy and deep ecology. Residing in a rural part of Maui, Hawaii, he writes prolifically and is dedicated to the restoration of the islands' rainforests.

Merwin has received many honors, including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (in both 1971 and 2009),[2] the National Book Award for Poetry (2005)[3] and the Tanning Prize, one of the highest honors bestowed by the Academy of American Poets, as well as the Golden Wreath of the Struga Poetry Evenings. In 2010, the Library of Congress named Merwin the seventeenth United States Poet Laureate to replace the outgoing Kay Ryan.[4][5] Following his receiving the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2009, Merwin is recognized as one of the principal contributors to poetry in the early 21st century.

Early life

Merwin initially grew up on this street in Union City, New Jersey, which was renamed for him in 2006.

W. S. Merwin was born in New York City on September 30, 1927. He grew up on the corner of Fourth Street and New York Avenue in Union City, New Jersey until 1936, when his family moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania. As a child, he was enamored of the natural world, sometimes finding himself talking to the large tree in his back yard. He was also fascinated with things that he saw as links to the past, such as the building behind his home that had once been a barn that housed a horse and carriage.[6] At the age of five he started writing hymns for his father,[7] who was a Presbyterian minister.[5]


After attending Princeton University, Merwin married his first wife, Dorothy Jeanne Ferry, and moved to Spain. During his stay there, while visiting the renowned poet Robert Graves at his homestead on the island of Majorca, he served as tutor to Graves's son. There, he met Dido Milroy — fifteen years older than him — with whom he collaborated on a play and whom he later married and lived with in London. In 1956, Merwin moved to Boston for a fellowship at the Poets' Theater. He returned to London where he was friends with Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. In 1968, Merwin moved to New York City, separating from his wife who stayed at their home in France. In the late 1970s, Merwin moved to Hawaii and eventually was divorced from Dido Milroy. He married Paula Schwartz in 1983.[8]

In 1952 Merwin's first book of poetry, A Mask for Janus, was published in the Yale Younger Poets Series. W. H. Auden selected the work for that distinction. Later, in 1971 Auden and Merwin would exchange harsh words in the pages of The New York Review of Books. Merwin had published "On Being Awarded the Pulitzer Prize" in the June 3, 1971 issue of The New York Review of Books, outlining his objections to the Vietnam War and stating that he was donating his prize money to the draft resistance movement.

From 1956 to 1957 Merwin was also playwright-in-residence at the Poet's Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts; he became poetry editor at The Nation in 1962. Besides being a prolific poet, he is also a respected translator of Spanish, French, Latin and Italian poetry (including Dante's Purgatorio) as well as poetry from Sanskrit, Yiddish, Middle English, Japanese and Quechua. He also served as selector of poems of the late American poet Craig Arnold (1967–2009).

Merwin is probably best known for his poetry about the Vietnam War, and can be included among the canon of Vietnam War-era poets which includes such luminaries as Robert Bly, Adrienne Rich; Denise Levertov; Robert Lowell; Allen Ginsberg and Yusef Komunyakaa. In 1998, Merwin wrote Folding Cliffs: A Narrative, an ambitious novel-in-verse about Hawaiʻi in history and legend.

Merwin's early subjects were frequently tied to mythological or legendary themes, while many of his poems featured animals. A volume called The Drunk in the Furnace (1960) marked a change for Merwin, in that he began to write in a much more autobiographical way. The title-poem is about Orpheus, seen as an old drunk. 'Where he gets his spirits / it's a mystery', Merwin writes; 'But the stuff keeps him musical'. Another poem of this period — 'Odysseus' — reworks the traditional theme in a way that plays off poems by Stevens and Graves on the same topic.

In the 1960s, Merwin lived in a small apartment in New York City's Greenwich Village,[6] and began to experiment boldly with metrical irregularity. His poems became much less tidy and controlled. He played with the forms of indirect narration typical of this period, a self-conscious experimentation explained in an essay called 'On Open Form' (1969). The Lice (1967) and The Carrier of Ladders (1970) remain his most influential volumes. These poems often used legendary subjects (as in 'The Hydra' or 'The Judgment of Paris') to explore highly personal themes.

In Merwin's later volumes — such as The Compass Flower (1977), Opening the Hand (1983), and The Rain in the Trees (1988) — one sees him transforming earlier themes in fresh ways, developing an almost Zen-like indirection. His latest poems are densely imagistic, dream-like, and full of praise for the natural world. He has lived in Hawaii since the 1970s. Migration: New and Selected Poems won the 2005 National Book Award for poetry.[9] A lifelong friend of James Wright, Merwin wrote an elegy to him that appears in the 2008 volume From the Other World: Poems in Memory of James Wright.

The Shadow of Sirius,[10] published in 2008 by Copper Canyon Press, was awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for poetry.[2]

Merwin's most recent book of poetry, Garden Time[11] (Copper Canyon Press, 2016) was composed during the difficult process of losing his eyesight. When he could no longer see well enough to write, he dictated poems to his wife, Paula. It is a book about aging and the practice of living one's life in the present. Writing about Garden Time in The New York Times, Jeff Gordinier suggests that "Merwin's work feels like part of some timeless continuum, a river that stretches all the way back to Han Shan and Li Po."[12]

In June 2010, the Library of Congress named Merwin the seventeenth United States Poet Laureate to replace the outgoing Kay Ryan.[4][5] He is the subject of the 2014 documentary film Even Though the Whole World Is Burning. Merwin appeared in the PBS documentary "The Buddha," released in 2010. He had moved to Hawaii to study with the Zen Buddhist master Robert Aitkin in 1976.[13]

Personal life

Today, Merwin lives on land that was formerly part of a pineapple plantation, on the northeast coast of Maui.[4][5]


Each year links to its corresponding "[year] in poetry" or "[year] in literature" article:

Other accolades

Merwin's former home town of Union City, New Jersey honored him in 2006 by renaming a local street near his former home W.S. Merwin Way.[6]


Each year links to its corresponding "[year] in poetry" or "[year] in literature" article:

Poetry - collections


This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.
Title Year First published in Collected in
Alba 2008 The New Yorker 84/35 (November 3, 2008)
Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth 2012 The New York Review of Books 59/9 (May 24, 2012)
The Blackboard 2014 The New Yorker 90/32 (October 20, 2014)
Another Year Comes 1960 The New Yorker Book of Poems (1974)
The Asians Dying 1966 The New Yorker Book of Poems (1974)
Burning Mountain 1958 The New Yorker Book of Poems (1974)
The Herds 1966 The New Yorker Book of Poems (1974)
Lemuels Blessing 1962 The New Yorker Book of Poems (1974)
The Old Room 1969 The New Yorker Book of Poems (1974)
Peasant 1967 The New Yorker Book of Poems (1974)
Plea for a Captive 1960 The New Yorker Book of Poems (1974)
The Portland (Going Out) 1957 The New Yorker Book of Poems (1974)
Resolution 1964 The New Yorker Book of Poems (1974)
The Way to the River 1962 The New Yorker Book of Poems (1974)
The Widow 1966 The New Yorker Book of Poems (1974)





Other sources


Merwin's literary papers are held at The Rare Book & Manuscript Library (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). The collection, which is open to researchers, consists of some 5,500 archival items and 450 printed books.[27][28]


  1. "Amazon.com Official Profile". Retrieved 7 October 2012.
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Poetry". Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-04-08.
  3. http://www.nationalbook.org/nba2005.html
  4. 1 2 3 4 Kennicott, Philip (July 1, 2010). "W.S. Merwin, Hawaii-based poet, will serve as 17th U.S. laureate". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 1, 2010.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Cohen, Patricia (June 30, 2010). "W. S. Merwin to Be Named Poet Laureate". The New York Times. Retrieved July 9, 2010.
  6. 1 2 3 Diaz, Lana Rose. "Merwin Speaks"; The Union City Reporter; July 11, 2010; Pages 1 & 9
  7. Jay Parini, About W. S. Merwin, article on Modern American Poetry, http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/m_r/merwin/life.htm
  8. Smith, Dinitia (February 19, 1995). "A Poet of Their Own". New York Times. Retrieved March 30, 2010.
  9. 1 2 3 "National Book Awards – 2005". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-04-08.
    (With acceptance speech by Merwin, essay by Patrick Rosal from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog, and other material.)
  10. https://www.coppercanyonpress.org/pages/browse/book.asp?bg=[]{36404347-DB50-4E0A-BBDE-2CA7F7C682BD}
  11. https://www.coppercanyonpress.org/pages/browse/book.asp?bg={370D5539-31F0-4B38-89AF-D57D1E0ACE25}[]
  12. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/20/books/w-s-merwin-garden-time-adam-fitzgerald-george-washington.html
  13. http://www.pbs.org/thebuddha/featured-scholars-and-poets/
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 Merwin biography at Poetry Foundation, Accessed October 23, 2010
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Brennan, Elizabeth A. and Elizabeth C. Clarage, "1971: W.S. Merwin" article, p 534, Who's Who of Pulitzer Prize Winners Phoenix, Arizona: The Oryx Press (1999), ISBN 1-57356-111-8, retrieved via Google Books on June 8, 2010
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 News release, "Poet W.S. Merwin Reads at Library of Congress October 15, September 22, 1997, Library of Congress website, retrieved June 8, 2010
  17. Routledge Staff (2003). International Who's Who of Authors and Writers 2004. Routledge. p. 383. ISBN 1-85743-179-0. Retrieved 2008-07-20.
  18. 1 2 3 W. S. Merwin at Barclay Agency, Accessed October 23, 2010
  19. "The 2009 Pulitzer Prize Winners/Poetry", Pulitzer.org; Accessed October 23, 2010
  20. "There's a flame in me that thinks…". Fundacja im. Zbigniewa Herberta. Retrieved January 25, 2014.
  21. "The Folding Cliffs: A Narrative (Hardcover)"; Amazon.com; October 23, 2010
  22. Farr, Sheila, "Poet ponders life's contrasts in 'The Shadow of Sirius'", book review, October 30, 2010, The Seattle Times, retrieved June 8, 2010
  23. https://www.coppercanyonpress.org/pages/browse/book.asp?bg=[]{C97B4DC4-47FC-4369-A4C9-1061A0052828}
  24. https://www.coppercanyonpress.org/pages/browse/book.asp?bg={370D5539-31F0-4B38-89AF-D57D1E0ACE25}[]
  25. Archive at Hudson Review Accessed October 23, 2010
  26. https://www.coppercanyonpress.org/pages/browse/book.asp?bg=[]{A4D68B58-CFC3-4864-8BE9-4AE7BF976A4E}
  27. "Finding Aid for the W.S. Merwin Papers, Merwin 1". Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved March 29, 2010.
  28. "Finding Aid for the W.S. Merwin Book Collection (UIU00141)". Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved March 29, 2010.

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to W. S. Merwin.
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/11/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.