He has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, has been a long-time nominee for the Nobel Prize for Literature (I figure they have one more chance to correct that oversight next week), and won the Yale Younger Poets Prize for his first book, A Mask for Janus. In 1952. He has published over fifty books of poetry, fiction, and translations. In addition to the huge body of poetry, he was an early practitioner of very short fiction, what is sometimes called “flash fiction” or in the trade parlance, the hideous term “short-shorts.”
On his ninetieth birthday, however, I think we should also celebrate M. S. Merwin’s other durable achievement: friend of the earth. He has practiced his stewardship in southern France and especially on Maui, where he and his late wife bought an old pineapple farm and returned it slowly and patiently to its native forest. They established the estate as a conservancy in 2010 to protect it for future generations. His environmental concerns manifest themselves in much of his writing, and it is the rare later poem that does not invoke nature somehow or other. Those of you who know me are aware of my immense admiration for him as a writer; I am no less in awe of him for his respect for nature.