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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

 

Starlight

William Meredith, 1919 - 2007
Going abruptly into a starry night
It is ignorance we blink from, dark, unhoused;
There is a gaze of animal delight
Before the human vision. Then, aroused
To nebulous danger, we may look for easy stars,
Orion and the Dipper; but they are not ours,

These learned fields. Dark and ignorant,
Unable to see here what our forebears saw,
We keep some fear of random firmament
Vestigial in us. And we think, Ah,
If I had lived then, when these stories were made up, I
Could have found more likely pictures in haphazard sky.

But this is not so. Indeed, we have proved fools
When it comes to myths and images. A few
Old bestiaries, pantheons and tools
Translated to the heavens years ago—
Scales and hunter, goat and horologe—are all
That save us when, time and again, our systems fall.

And what would we do, given a fresh sky
And our dearth of image? Our fears, our few beliefs
Do not have shapes. They are like that astral way
We have called milky, vague stars and star-reefs
That were shapeless even to the fecund eye of myth—
Surely these are no forms to start a zodiac with.

To keep the sky free of luxurious shapes
Is an occupation for most of us, the mind
Free of luxurious thoughts. If we choose to escape,
What venial constellations will unwind
Around a point of light, and then cannot be found
Another night or by another man or from other ground.

As for me, I would find faces there,
Or perhaps one face I have long taken for guide;
Far-fetched, maybe, like Cygnus, but as fair,
And a constellation anyone could read
Once it was pointed out; an enlightenment of night,
The way the pronoun you will turn dark verses bright.

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
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
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