Merwin was born in New York City and grew up in Union City, New Jersey, and Scranton, Pennsylvania. His father was a Presbyterian minister. 'I started writing hymns for my father as soon as I could write at all', Merwin has said. He attended Princeton University, where he studied writing with John Berryman and R. P. Blackmur, to whom his fifth book, The Moving Target (1963), was dedicated. Merwin spent a postgraduate year at Princeton studying Romance languages, an interest that would lead, eventually, to his much-admired work as a translator of Latin, Spanish, and French poetry.
'Aunt Jemima of the Ocean Waves' portrays Hayden's own mythological figure of resilience. . . . Hayden uses the figure of Jemima as an archetypal symbol of the displaced Afro-American identity. The woman's lengthy narrative recounts her adventures from her days as the 'Sepia High Stepper' in Europe, to her present status in a sideshow as a 'fake mammy to God's mistakes'. As he listens to her intriguing narrative of 'High-stepping days', the persona finds in her a beautiful image of survival and strength, in spite of her ‘unfinished' or fake identity born from the original displacement of the culture. . . .
from From The Auroral Darkness: The Life and Poetry of Robert Hayden. Copyright © 1984 by John Hatcher.