Merwin, W. S.

Merwin, W. S. (William Stanley Merwin), 1927–2019, American poet and translator, b. New York City. After graduating from Princeton in 1948, he traveled in Europe, working as a tutor and studying Romance languages, a period described many years later in his memoir Summer Doorways (2005). From 1976 he lived in Maui, Hawaii, in a mountain forest which he restored, and he also became known as a conservationist. Merwin is noted for his restrained, spare, unpunctuated, sometimes remote, often elegiac, and always finely wrought verse. His poetry frequently focuses on nature and the human response to it as well as on memory and mortality. It embodies a contemplative engagement with myth and religious vision (he was a practicing Buddhist) and often expresses an overwhelming sense of silence, loss, and the brevity of life. His many volumes of poetry include A Mask for Janus (1952), The Moving Target (1963), The Lice (1967), The Carrier of Ladders (1970; Pulitzer Prize), Opening the Hand (1983), Travels (1993), The River Sound (1999), The Pupil (2002), The Shadow of Sirius (2009; Pulitzer Prize), and Garden Time (2016). Among his well-known translations are The Cid (1959) and The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes (1962). He also wrote essays, short fiction, plays, and memoirs. Merwin was poet laureate of the United States from 2010 to 2011.

See M. Wiegers, ed., The Essential W. S. Merwin (2017), his memoir of childhood, Unframed Originals (1982); studies by C. Davis (1981), M. Christhif (1986), C. Nelson and E. Folsom, ed. (1987), E. J. Brunner (1991), H. L. Hix (1997), J. Frazier (1999), and H. Bloom, ed. (2004).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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