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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

 

Last Things

William Meredith, 1919 - 2007
   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 galaxies.
In all their slowness we see no dignity,
Only a want of scale.
Having crossed the road oblivious, he falls off
Deliberately and without grace into the ferns.

II
In another state are hills as choppy as lake water
And, on a hillside there,
Is a junkyard of old cars, kept for the parts—
Fenders and chassis and the engine blocks
Right there in the field, smaller parts in bins
In a shed by the side of the road. Cows graze
Among the widely spaced rows,
Which are irregular only as an old orchard is,
Following the contours of the hill.
The tops of the cars are bright colors still
And as pretty as bottles hung on a bare tree
Or painted cinder blocks in a garden.
Cars the same age are parked on the road like cannibals.

III
At the edge of a harbor, in a field
That faces the ocean they came by and left by,
Statues of soldiers and governors and their queen
Lie where the Africans put them.
Unbewildered, not without understanding,
The marble countenances look at the green
Continent; they did their best; plunderers
Were fewer among them than men of honor.
But no one comes for them, though they have been offered.
With chipped extremities, in a chipped regalia
They lie at angles of unaccustomed ease.
In the parks and squares of England are set up
Bolder, more dreadful shapes of the ego,
While African lichen confers an antique grandeur
On these, from whom men have withheld it.

IV
At the edge of the Greek world, I think, was a cliff
To which fallen gods were chained, immortal.
Time is without forgiveness, but intermittenly
He sends the old, sentimental, hungry
Vulture compassion to gnaw on the stone
Vitals of each of us, even the young, as if
To ready each of us, even the old, for an unthinkable
Event he foresees for each of us—a reckoning, our own.

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
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
poem
Touching your goodness, I am like a man
Who turns a letter over in his hand
And you might think this was because the hand
was unfamiliar but, truth is, the man
Has never had a letter from anyone;
And now he is both afraid of what it means
And ashamed because he has no other means
To find out what it says than to
poem
What it must be like to be an angel
or a squirrel, we can imagine sooner.

The last time we go to bed good,
they are there, lying about darkness.

They dandle us once too often,
these friends who become our enemies.

Suddenly one day, their juniors
are as old as we yearn to be.

They get wrinkles where it is