- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 6, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - He is 86 years old, his eyesight is failing and much of his recent work reads like a man saying goodbye.

But W.S. Merwin continues to write poems; he cannot help himself.

“I wrote the last one about 10 days ago, it doesn’t stop, and I don’t know where it comes from,” says Merwin, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. poet laureate widely regarded as among the greatest poets of the past half-century.

“I remember, just over a year ago, after several readings and two red-eye flights, I was absolutely exhausted. But in the middle of the night, I woke up with a line and a half of poetry to write.”

Speaking by phone from his house on the island of Maui in Hawaii, Merwin said he hopes to finish at least another book, health permitting, and also discussed his latest collection, “The Moon Before Morning.” Like his Pulitzer Prize winner from 2008 “The Shadow of Sirius,” its themes are age, time and memory. Phrases such as “this unrepeatable present,” ”the current music of vanishing” and “the long-gone night pasture” can be found throughout.

In “Relics,” he writes of his affinity for worlds that have disappeared.

Before I knew words for it

I loved what was obsolete

crumpled at the foot of the closet

lost in the street

left out in the rain

in its wet story

from another age

“I think I’ve seen so many things in my lifetime just as they were vanishing, and sometimes I realized it was happening and sometimes I didn’t,” Merwin says. “I remember one wonderful period of late summer and autumn into winter, way up in the mountains of northern Portugal, an area that really had not changed since the Romans. So this was very, very ancient in so many ways - the architecture, the way of farming. I was just hugging myself. It was wonderful.”

Born in New York City and raised in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Merwin is a Presbyterian minister’s son whose earliest memories of language include writing out the sermons of his father. He was composing his own verse while still a boy and was class poet at Princeton University. His first collection, “A Mask for Janus,” won the Yale Younger Poets prize in 1951, and by the end of the decade, his friends and acquaintances included Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell.

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