Born in New York City, William Stanley Merwin spent most of his childhood in Union City, New Jersey, and in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He was preoccupied with poetry and the magic of words from an early age. His father was a Presbyterian minister, and Merwin began writing hymns for his father's church at age five. A sympathetic high school Spanish teacher encouraged his verse-making, and urged him to try his hand at translating the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca.
It was a novel-in-verse called “The Folding Cliffs.” He was born William Stanley Merwin and from an early age he had a fascination with the magic of words. In his home on Maui, he writes only in longhand—daily—in a room with a view of the outdoors. Nature is an inspiration.
Whereas Merwin's poetry once juxtaposed images, now it is speech patterns. In some poems it varies line from line, almost like dialogue, and in other poems it happens within a line, such as in "Shaving Without a Mirror" or "Questions to Tourists Stopped by a Pineapple Field," when the jump happens within a single line, broken in the middle by unpunctuated white space. "Do you like your piece of pineapple would you like a napkin," and so on. In the latter poem, it is more of a gimmick, as Merwin's stylistic variations occasionally can be, briefly, but the intensity of his search, for the right language, for all situations, eventually pays off as it does in ''A Birthday," which has this incredible passage: