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W.S. Merwin

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W.S. Merwin

A podcast from Academy of Achievement

The dynamic evolution of W.S. Merwin’s verse -- allied with his accomplishments as translator, essayist and environmentalist -- have made him the most admired and imitated of American poets. He published his first volume of verse at age 24 and soon won acclaim for an impressive mastery of classical verse technique, combined with a vivid appreciation of animal life and the natural world. Merwin embraced the use of more colloquial language and contemporary themes in the 1960s, advocating experimentation in his influential essay, “On Open Form.” When his book, The Carrier of Ladders, won the 1971 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, Merwin took the occasion to voice his opposition to the Vietnam War. His poetry in the following decades increasingly reflected his passionate antiwar convictions. Long celebrated as an outstanding translator of Latin, French, Spanish and Italian literature, his attention turned to the poetry of China, Japan and India. For many years, he has lived on the island of Maui in Hawaii and much of his poetry is suffused with the mythology and natural beauty of the islands. The meditative simplicity of his later work reflects his growing involvement with Buddhism and the philosophy of deep ecology. Fifty years of his poetry were collected in Migration: Selected Poems 1951-2001, a volume honored with the National Book Award. Thirty-eight years after winning his first Pulitzer, W.S. Merwin received a second Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his 2008 volume The Shadow of Sirius. In 2010 he was named Poet Laureate of the United States. In this podcast, recorded at the 2008 International Achievement Summit in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, the poet exhorts the Academy’s student delegates to pursue their individual aspirations without fear of the collective judgments of society.

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