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About this poet

William Meredith was born in New York City on January 9, 1919. He attended the Lenox School in Massachusetts and in 1940 graduated from Princeton University with an AB in English, Magna Cum Laude. His senior thesis was on the work of Robert Frost, a major influence for Meredith throughout his career.

He worked briefly as a reporter for The New York Times before joining the U.S. Army Air Force in 1941. In 1942 he served as a carrier pilot for the U.S. Navy, achieving the rank of lieutenant. During his service, Meredith's first book of poems, Love Letter from an Impossible Land (Yale University Press, 1944), was chosen by Archibald MacLeish for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. For the next few years he taught English at Princeton University as Woodrow Wilson Fellow in Writing and Resident Fellow in Creative Writing while still in the U.S. Navy Reserves.

In 1948, his second collection, Ships and Other Figures (Princeton University Press) was published. Meredith then taught briefly as Associate professor of English at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu before returning to the Navy as a pilot in the Korean War. During his service, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Commander and recieved two Air Medals.

During this time, Meredith continued to focus on his poetry, and for several years after his return to the States, he divided his time between teaching and writing. An opera critic, dramatist, translator, editor, and public servant, Meredith was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1964.

Since then, he has published several books of poetry, including Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems (TriQuarterly Books, 1997), for which he won the National Book Award; Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1987), which won both the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize; The Cheer (Alfred A. Knopf, 1980); Hazard, the Painter (Alfred A. Knopf, 1975); and Earth Walk: New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1970).

Meredith also edited Poets of Bulgaria (Unicorn Press, 1986) and Shelley: Selected Poems (1962), and translated Alcools: Poems 1989-1913 by Guillaume Apollinaire (Doubleday, 1964). A selection of William Meredith's prose, including memoirs, critical essays, reviews, and an interview, has been published as Poems Are Hard to Read (University of Michigan Press, 1991).

According to the poet Edward Hirsch, "[Meredith] has looked generously and hard at our common human world. He doesn't slight the disasterous, the 'umpteen kinds of trouble' he has seen—accountability weighs heavily in his poems—but his work reverberates with old-fashioned terms such as fairness, morale, cheerfulness, joy and happiness."

Meredith's honors include the Loines Award and a grant from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize, the International Vaptsarov Prize in Poetry, a grant and senior fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and two Rockefeller Foundation grants. He was a Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1978 to 1980 and a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1963 until 1987.

Meredith began to suffer from expressive aphasia after a stroke in 1983. This means that he has lost the ability to express himself at will. As the poet Michael Collier explains in his foreword to Meredith's most recent publication, Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems: "Trapped, as it were, inside his body, which has profoundly betrayed him, for the past decade and a half Meredith has remained occupied with the poet's struggle—the struggle to speak."

For several years, he divided his time between Uncasville, Connecticut and Bulgaria, where he was granted honorary citizenship, with Richard Harteis, by decree of President Zhelev ini 1996.

Meredith died on May 30, 2007, at the age of 88, at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London, CT.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems (TriQuarterly Books, 1997)
Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1987)
The Cheer (Alfred A. Knopf, 1980)
Hazard, the Painter (Alfred A. Knopf, 1975)
Earth Walk: New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1970)
Ships and Other Figures (Princeton University Press, 1948)
Love Letter from an Impossible Land (Yale University Press, 1944)


 

Multimedia

From the Image Archive

 

In Loving Memory of the Late Author of Dream Songs

William Meredith, 1919 - 2007
Friends making off ahead of time
on their own, I call that willful, John,
but that's not judgement, only argument
such as we've had before.
I watch a shaky man climb
a cast-iron railing in my head, on
a Mississippi bluff, though I had meant
to dissuade him. I call out, and he doesn't hear.

'Fantastic! Fantastic! Thank thee, dear Lord'
is what you said we were to write on your stone,
but you go down without so much as a note.
Did you wave jauntily, like the German ace
in a silent film, to a passerby, as the paper said?
We have to understand how you got
from here to there, a hundred feet straight down.
Though you had told us and told us,
and how it would be underground
and how it would be for us left here,
who could have plotted that swift chute
from the late height of your prizes?
For all your indignation, your voice
was part howl only, part of it was caress.
Adorable was a word you threw around,
fastidious John of the gross disguises,
and despair was another: 'this work of almost despair.'

Morale is what I think about all the time
now, what hopeful men and women can say and do.
But having to speak for you, I can't
lie. 'Let his giant faults appear, as sent
together with his virtues down,' the song says.
It says suicide is a crime
and that wives and children deserve better than this.
None of us deserved, of course, you.

Do we wave back now, or what do we do?
You were never reluctant to instruct.
I do what's in character, I look for things
to praise on the riverbanks and I praise them.
We are all relicts, of some great joy, wearing black,
but this book is full of marvelous songs.
Don't let us contract your dread recidivism
and start falling from our own iron railings.
Wave from the fat book again, make us wave back.

Reprinted from Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems by William Meredith, published by Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press in 1997. Copyright (c) 1997 by William Meredith. All rights reserved; used by permission of Northwestern University Press and the author.

Reprinted from Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems by William Meredith, published by Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press in 1997. Copyright (c) 1997 by William Meredith. All rights reserved; used by permission of Northwestern University Press and the author.

William Meredith

William Meredith

William Meredith was born in New York City on January 9, 1919.

by this poet

poem
   For Robert Lowell

I
In the tunnel of woods, as the road
Winds up through the freckled light, a porcupine,
Larger than life, crosses the road.
He moves with the difficulty of relics—
Possum, armadillo, horseshoe crab.
To us they seem creatures arthritic with time,
Winding joylessly down like burnt-out
poem
Here at the seashore they use the clouds over & over
again, like the rented animals in Aïda.
In the late morning the land breeze
turns and now the extras are driving
all the white elephants the other way.
What language are the children shouting in?
He is lying on the beach listening.

The sand knocks
poem
Go, little book. If anybody asks
Why I add poems to a time like this,
Tell how the comeliness I can't take in
Of ships and other figures of content
Compels me still until I give them names;
And how I give them names impatiently,
As who should pull up roses by the roots
That keep him turning on his empty bed,
The