Peter Gentle 12.03.2013 08:13
American poet William Stanley Merwin is the first recipient of the International Zbigniew Herbert Prize, awarded by the Warsaw-based Foundation dedicated to the memory of the late Polish writer.
W.S. Merwin: photo - EPA
Jury chairman, Edward Hirsch of the United States, has described the 86 year-old William Stanley Merwin as one of the most important American poets of the second half of the 20th century.
In addition to over fifty volumes of poetry, he has to his credit translations of The Song of Roland, Purgatory from Dante’s The Divine Comedy and works by Osip Mandelstam and Pablo Neruda.
For Hirsch, Merwin is “the very modern embodiment of a prophet, a classical bard or a shaman, whose poetry is filled with images of spiritual pilgrimages which give it the character of a secular prayer. He is probably the most international of American poets, his sources of inspiration, like those of Zbigniew Herbert, being both classical and modern”.
In a letter to the international jury, which was read out during the ceremony of announcing the name of the prize recipient, Merwin wrote: “I have adored Herbert as a friend and poet ever since our first meeting in New York in 1968. I fell in love with his ‘Selected Poems’ which was published at that time. […] It seems to me that he has not been sufficiently recognized as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century.”
The jury of the Herbert Prize also included the Nobel Prize winning poet Tomas Venclova, as well as poets, essayists, translators and editors from Poland, Germany, Sweden, Spain and Macedonia.
Born in 1924, Herbert was one of the most influential 20th-century Polish poets, essayists and moralists. His most popular works include ‘Struna swiatła’ (The Chord of Light), ‘Hermes, pies i gwiazda’ (Hermes, Dog and Star), ‘Barbarzynca w ogrodzie’ (The Barbarian in the Garden) and ‘Pan Cogito’ (Mr. Cogito).
An anti-communist, Herbert gave his wholehearted support to the Solidarity movement. After the imposition of martial law in December 1981, his poems were recited at clandestine Solidarity meetings.
His works have been translated into 38 languages. He died in 1998. (mk/pg)