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W.S. Merwin, U.S. Poet Laureate: A Resource Guide

About W.S. Merwin at the Library of Congress

W.S. Merwin served as the U.S. Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress from 2010-2011. The links below provide more information about Merwin's activities at the Library, including webcasts, blog posts, and related news releases.

On July 1, 2010, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced the appointment of W.S. Merwin as the 17th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. On making the appointment, Dr. Billington said:

William Merwin’s poems are often profound and, at the same time, accessible to a vast audience. He leads us upstream from the flow of everyday things in life to half-hidden headwaters of wisdom about life itself. In his poem "Heartland," Merwin seems to suggest that a land of the heart within us might help map the heartland beyond—and that this "map" might be rediscovered in something like a library, where "it survived beyond / what could be known at the time / in its archaic / untaught language / that brings the bees to the rosemary."

Merwin officially started his term on October 25th, 2010 with a reading of his poetry. This was not Merwin's first time serving in the position of Consultant in Poetry. In 1999, Dr. Billington appointed Merwin, along with Rita Dove and Louise Glück, Special Consultants in Poetry to assist poet laureate Robert Pinsky with the poetry programs of the Library's Bicentennial Year.

Merwin was born in New York City and educated at Princeton University. He traveled extensively in France, Portugal, and England. He was the author of more than 20 books of poetry. A Mask for Janus, his first book in 1952, was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. His book Migration: Selected Poems 1951-2001 won the National Book Award for poetry in 2005. He twice won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, in 1971 for his book The Carrier of Ladders, and in 2009 for The Shadow of Sirius. Merwin also published more than 20 books of translation, numerous plays, and six books of prose. A resident of Hawaii.

Merwin described the theme of his term External as poet laureate, which ended in May 2011, as "the fact that there’s no separation between human imagination and the rest of life. Put another way, humans are not a separate species. The world is a part of us. It should be part of our joy and our pleasure. When we destroy the world, we’re destroying ourselves."

Library of Congress press releases, blog posts and other articles articles about W.S. Merwin and his poet laureate appointment, activities, and events are listed below.

The Library of Congress features several recordings of W.S. Merwin reading and discussing his poetry and the poetry of other poets. These are listed below.


Audio Recordings