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William Stanley Merwin (New York City, September 30, 1927) is an American poet. During the 1960s anti-war movement, Merwin's unique craft was thematically characterized by indirect, unpunctuated narration. In the 80s and 90s, Merwin's writing influence derived from his interest in Buddhist philosophy and deep ecology. Residing in Hawaii, he writes prolifically and is dedicated to the restoration of its rainforests.

Merwin has received many honors, including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (in both 1971 and 2009) 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.

Contents

Works

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 has published over fifteen volumes of his works) 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 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 Hawaiiin history and legend.

Merwin's early subjects were frequently tied to mythological or legendary themes, while many of the poems featured animals, which were treated as emblems in the manner of William Blake. 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 powerful poem of this period is 'Odysseus', which reworks the traditional theme in a way that plays off poems by Stevens and Graves on the same topic.

In the 1960s Merwin 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, and one sees the influence of this tropical landscape everywhere in the recent poems, though the landscape remains emblematic and personal. Migration (Copper Canyon Press, 2005) won the 2005 National Book Award for poetry. A life-long friend of James Wright, Merwin's elegy to him appears in the 2008 volume From the Other World: Poems in Memory of James Wright.

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

Bibliography

Poetry - collections

Poems

Prose

  • The Miner's Pale Children, 1970
  • Houses and Travellers, 1977
  • Regions of Memory
  • Unframed Originals: Recollections, 1982
  • The Lost Uplands: Stories of Southwest France, 1992
  • The Mays of Ventadorn, 2002
  • The Ends of the Earth, 2004
  • The Book of Fables, 2007 (Copper Canyon Press)

Translations

  • The Poem of the Cid, 1959
  • The Satires of Persius, 1960
  • Spanish Ballads, 1961
  • Lazarillo de Tormes, 1962
  • The Song of Roland, 1963
  • Selected Translations, 1948 - 1968, 1968
  • Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, Poems by Pablo Neruda, 1969
  • Products of the Perfected Civilization, Selected Writings of Chamfort, 1969
  • Voices, Poems of Antonio Porchia, 1969, 1988, 2003 (Copper Canyon Press)
  • Transparence of the World, Poems by Jean Follain, 1969, 2003 (Copper Canyon Press)
  • “Eight Quechua Poems,” The Hudson Review, 1971
  • Asian Figures, 1973
  • Osip Mandelstam: Selected Poems (with Clarence Brown), 1974
  • Euripedes' Iphigeneia at Aulis (with George E. Dimock, Jr.), 1978
  • Selected Translations, 1968-1978, 1979
  • Four French Plays, 1985
  • From the Spanish Morning, 1985
  • Vertical Poetry, Poems by Roberto Juarroz, 1988
  • Sun at Midnight, Poems by Musō Soseki (with Soiku Shigematsu), 1989
  • Pieces of Shadow: Selected Poems of Jaime Sabines, 1996
  • East Window: The Asian Translations, 1998 (Copper Canyon Press)
  • Purgatorio from The Divine Comedy of Dante, 2000
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, 2005
  • Summer Doorways: A Memoir, 2005

Other sources

  • The Union City Reporter March 12, 2006.

External links

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