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W.S. Merwin (1927 – 2019), Pulitzer Prize-winning poet laureate

Don Tormey/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Poet and conservationist's work spanned seven decades...

W.S. Merwin was one of America's best known poets, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Book Award. He served as United States poet laureate from 2010 – 2011. His poems were frequently published in magazines including the New Yorker and Harper's, as well as in his own award-winning collections. In the 1967 collection "The Lice," Merwin wrote about the horrors of the Vietnam War. Another frequent subject for Merwin was the natural world. His publications spanned seven decades, from his first collection, 1952's "A Mask for Janus," to his most recent, 2016's "Garden Time."

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Died: March 15, 2019 (Who else died on March 15?)

Details of death: Died at his home near Haiku-Pauwela, Hawaii at the age of 91.


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A poet and a palm farmer: Merwin was a noted conservationist as well as a poet. He settled in Hawaii in the 1970s, buying a former pineapple plantation on Maui. The land had been deforested over the years before he began to steward it, but in the decades he lived there, he planted thousands of palm trees, along with other vegetation, returning it to a healthy state and creating one of the world's largest collection of palms. In 2010, Merwin and his wife, Paula, created the nonprofit organization The Merwin Conservancy to preserve the palm forest, provide environmental education programs, and nurture artists.

In the poet's own words: “Every year without knowing it I have passed the day

When the last fires will wave to me

And the silence will set out

Tireless traveler

Like the beam of a lightless star” —Excerpt from “For the Anniversary of My Death”

What people said about him: “The poems of W.S. Merwin's mature career were often Delphic, haunted, and bleak. They seemed to have been delivered unto him, and he transcribed them by lightning flash.” —The New Yorker

“Beyond the extraordinary legacies of his poetic and botanical achievements, William has left us all deeply inspired to make the world a better place through word and deed, and to see and preserve the natural world as the exquisite poem it is.” —The Merwin Conservancy

Full obituary: New York Times

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