The Library of Congress > Wise Guide > August 2010 > The Magic of Merwin
The Magic of Merwin

Poet W.S. Merwin lives a quiet life on a former pineapple plantation atop a dormant volcano in Haiku, a small community on the island of Maui, Hawaii. On July 1, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced Merwin’s appointment as the Library’s 17th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2010–2011.

W.S. Merwin. Photo by Matt Valentine. Reproduction Information: Reproduction information not available. Comus mural of the Lyric Poetry series by Henry O. Walker in the South Corridor of the Great Hall in the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building. 2007. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-DIG-highsm-02046 (original digital file); Call No.: LOT 13860 [item] (ONLINE) [P&P]

During a 60-year writing career, Merwin has received nearly every major literary award. He is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, just recently in 2009 for “The Shadow of Sirius” and in 1971 for “The Carrier of Ladders.” In 2006, he won the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress for “Present Company.” His retrospective collection “Migration: New and Selected Poems” won the 2005 National Book Award for poetry.

Born in 1927, Merwin showed an early interest in language and music, writing hymns for his father, a Presbyterian minister. He studied poetry at Princeton and in 1952 his first book, “A Mask for Janus,” was selected by W.H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award.

Merwin also has long been dedicated to translating poetry and plays from a wide array of languages, including Spanish and French.

In 1976, Merwin moved to Hawaii, where he and his wife Paula have fashioned a quiet life in beautiful, natural surroundings. An avid gardener, he has raised endangered palm trees on the land of his current home.

From 1999 to 2000, while Robert Pinsky served as Poet Laureate, Merwin, Rita Dove and Louise Glück were named as Special Bicentennial Consultants in Poetry to help celebrate the Library’s bicentennial. Merwin’s many honors also include the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, the Tanning Prize for Poetry, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Wallace Stevens Award, the PEN Translation Prize, the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry, and the Governor’s Award for Literature of the State of Hawaii. He has received a Ford Foundation grant and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation. Merwin is a former chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

A selection of online resources on Merwin has been put together, including both Library and external resources.

The Library is home to the Poetry and Literature Center, which, in addition to sponsoring the laureateship, hosts numerous poetry readings and events throughout the year. The center itself was founded in the 1940s and has been almost exclusively supported since 1951 by a gift from the late Gertrude Clarke Whittall, who wanted to bring the appreciation of good literature to a larger audience.