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The poet laureate: A life devoted to environmentalism

He doesn’t like suits, preferring the long-sleeve shirt and army-style green pants that mark him as a farmer and gardener.
On the Maui island of Hawaii where he has lived since 1970, he created a “tropical Walden” out of formerly treeless wasteland, development by then having largely denuded the island of its rainforest.
A solar-powered home overlooks his now densely forested, 19-acre place where various plant species and some 800 species of palms, endangered by development, have refuge.
Silver haired at 83, this farmer is also one of the most accomplished writers in the country today.
The author of more than 30 books of poetry, essays and translations and recipient of numerous literary awards and honors, William Stanley Merwin was named by the Library of Congress as the new poet laureate of the United States.
An interview article on W. S. Merwin, published in “The Progressive” (November 2010), testifies to a life of activism in environmental causes, as to a profound love for nature, evinced in much of his poetry.
He came to love nature very early.
As a small boy, he recalls in the interview, seeing grass coming out between the flagstones on the sidewalk of his hometown in New Jersey and informed of the cause by his mother (“Well, the earth is right under the stones there.”), he felt “great relief and pleasure,” and reassurance, at “the earth [being] right down underneath there.”
The family’s tiny backyard, with but one tree in it, was a childhood place of solace when he felt unhappy or unjustly punished; he would “go out and stand by the tree, [feeling] a closeness to it.”
He remarks of a deepening sense of foreboding, for the scale of damage being inflicted on the natural world.
The BP oil spill is a recent and “perfectly horrible” example, the context of destruction is wider and its effects are taking a heavy toll.
“We started agricultural practices that took for granted that we use poisons,” Merwin notes. “The moment we turn over the soil, we start poisoning it, and we go on poisoning it all the way through.
There’s probably not a river in the United States that doesn’t have pesticide poisoning in it.
The fish are dying. The seas are getting polluted. The rainforests are going. And global warming is here.”
On species endangerment, he recounts his shock when told by a molecular biologist, 30 years ago that a living species is being lost every week.
“And now — we’re losing a species every few minutes. We cannot put them back. We cannot change our mind and say ‘Oops, we made a mistake.’ It’s too late.”
Merwin’s poetry, in simple words and verses that delight ear and mind, celebrates birds and spiders, moles, frogs and other animals, rocks, caves, trees and hay scented pastures, and many other things for which “At this moment,” the Ring poem says, “this earth, for all we know, is the only place in the vault of darkness [of the cosmos] with life on it.”