W.S. Merwin, Poet of Life’s Evanescence, Dies at 91

The weight of those losses, Mr. Merwin said long afterward, pervaded every aspect of the family culture. As he wrote, making a rare foray into rhyme, in “Testimony,” from his 1999 volume “The River Sound”:

those were her deaths before my day
by that time she could turn to hear
outside the voices on her way
a stillness only partly here
and whatever she would hold dear
giving herself up to its care
she looked beyond it without fear
toward what she felt was waiting there

Young William was reared in Union City, N.J., and Scranton, Pa., where his father, a Presbyterian minister, preached. Besotted with language from a very young age, he wrote his first verse, hymns for his father’s congregation, at 5. (“I was very disappointed…

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