NEW YORK (AP) — W.S. Merwin, a prolific and versatile poetry master who evolved through a wide range of styles as he celebrated nature, condemned war and industrialism and reached for the elusive past, died Friday. He was 91.
A Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. poet laureate, Merwin completed more than 20 books, from early works inspired by myths and legends to fiery protests against environmental destruction and the conflict in Vietnam to late meditations on age and time.
He wrote rhymes and blank verse, a brief report on the month of January and a book-length story in verse about colonialism and the birth of modern Hawaii. Like his hero, Henry David Thoreau, he was inspired equally by reverence for the planet and anger against injustice.
He died in his sleep at his home on the Hawaiian island of Maui, according to publisher Copper Canyon Press and the Merwin Conservancy, which the poet founded.
“He is an artist with a very clear spiritual profile, and intellectual and moral consistency, which encompasses both his work and his life,” fellow poet Edward Hirsch once said of him.
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Merwin received virtually every honor a poet could ask for — more, it turned out, than he desired.
Citing the Vietnam War, he declined a Pulitzer in 1971 for “The Carrier of Ladders,” saying that he was “too conscious of being an American to accept public congratulation with good grace, or to welcome it except as an occasion for expressing openly a shame which many Americans feel.”
He also rejected membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters, now the American Academy of Arts and Letters, but changed his mind five years later, in 1977.
Among other awards he accepted: a National Book Award for “Migration” in 2005, a Pulitzer in 2009 for “The Shadow of Sirius,” and such lifetime achievement honors as the Tanning Prize, the Bollingen Prize and a gold medal from the arts academy. He was chosen the country’s poet laureate in 2010 and served a single one-year term.
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