William Jay Smith was born in 1918 in Winnfield, Louisiana. He studied at Washington University, Columbia University, and at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. Smith served as a poetry consultant to the Library of Congress (the position now known as the U.S. Poet Laureate) from 1968 until 1970, and has been a member of The Academy of Arts and Letters since 1975, as well as a former vice-president for literature. Smith, noted for his translations, has won awards from both the French Academy, the Swedish Academy, and the Hungarian government. Including his most recent collection, The Cherokee Lottery (Curbstone Press, 2000), he has written ten collections of poetry, two of which were nominated for the National Book Award. Smith was a poet in residence at Williams College from 1959-1967, Chairman of the Writing Division of the School of Arts at Columbia University from 1973 until 1975, and currently is the Professor Emeritus of English at Hollins College. Smith makes his home between Cummington, Massachusetts, and Paris, France.
All night the wind swept over the house And through our dream Swirling the snow up through the pines, Ruffling the white, ice-capped clapboards, Rattling the windows, Rustling around and below our bed So that we rode Over wild water In a white ship breasting the waves. We rode through the night On green, marbled Water, and, half-waking, watched The white, eroded peaks of icebergs Sail past our windows; Rode out the night in that north country, And awoke, the house buried in snow, Perched on a Chill promontory, a Giant's tooth In the mouth of the cold valley, Its white tongue looped frozen around us, The trunks of tall birches Revealing the rib cage of a whale Stranded by a still stream; And saw, through the motionless baleen of their branches, As if through time, Light that shone On a landscape of ivory, A harbor of bone.
From The World Below the Window: Poems 1937-1997 by William Jay Smith, page 185. Copyright © 1998 by William Jay Smith. Reprinted with the permission of Johns Hopkins University. All rights reserved.