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About this poet

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.

Mr. Smith

William Jay Smith, 1918
How rewarding to know Mr. Smith, 
   Whose writings at random appear!
Some think him a joy to be with 
   While others do not, it is clear.

His eyes are somewhat Oriental, 
   His fingers are notably long;
His disposition is gentle,
   He will jump at the sound of a gong.

His chin is quite smooth and uncleft, 
   His face is clean-shaven and bright,
His right arm looks much like his left, 
   His left leg it goes with his right.

He has friends in the arts and the sciences; 
   He knows only one talent scout;
He can cope with most kitchen appliances, 
   But in general prefers dining out.

When young he collected matchboxes, 
   He now collects notebooks and hats;
He has eaten roussettes (flying foxes), 
   Which are really the next thing to bats!

He has never set foot on Majorca, 
   He has been to Tahiti twice,
But will seldom, no veteran walker, 
   Take two steps when one will suffice.
He abhors motorbikes and boiled cabbage; 
   Zippers he just tolerates;
He is wholly indifferent to cribbage, 
   And cuts a poor figure on skates.

He weeps by the side of the ocean, 
   And goes back the way that he came;
He calls out his name with emotion-- 
   It returns to him always the same.

It returns on the wind and he hears it 
   While the waves make a rustle around;
The dark settles down, and he fears it, 
   He fears its thin, crickety sound.

He thinks more and more as time passes, 
   Rarely opens a volume on myth.
Until mourned by the tall prairie grasses, 
   How rewarding to know Mr. Smith!

From The World Below the Window: Poems 1937-1997 by William Jay Smith, page 138. Copyright © 1998 by William Jay Smith. Reprinted with the permission of Johns Hopkins University. All rights reserved.

William Jay Smith

William Jay Smith

William Jay Smith was born in 1918 in Winnfield, Louisiana. He studied

by this poet

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
Look at him there in his stovepipe hat,
His high-top shoes, and his handsome collar;
Only my Daddy could look like that,
And I love my Daddy like he loves his Dollar.

The screen door bangs, and it sounds so funny-- 
There he is in a shower of gold;
His pockets are stuffed with folding money,
His lips are blue,
The geraniums I left last night on the windowsill, 
To the best of my knowledge now, are out there still, 
And will be there as long as I think they will.

And will be there as long as I think that I 
Can throw the window open on the sky, 
A touch of geranium pink in the tail of my eye;

As long as I think I see