Acclaimed poet William Meredith wrote formal, disciplined poetry of cool observation, intelligence, and wit. A Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, and later the Poet Laureate Consulate in Poetry to the Library of Congress, Meredith was also a Director and Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. His many honors also included the Pulitzer Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the National Book Award and the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize, the International Vaptsarov Prize, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in Poetry, two Rockefeller Foundation grants, and grants from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. A noted translator and editor, Meredith was responsible for the introduction of many Bulgarian poets to the English language through his work as editor on Poets of Bulgaria (1986) and Window on the Black Sea (1992). He also translated the Alcools (1964) of Guillaume Apollinaire. Meredith’s books of essays and criticism include Reasons for Poetry, and the Reason for Criticism (1982) and the highly praised Poems are Hard to Read (1991).
Born in New York City in 1919, Meredith attended Lenox School in Massachusetts and first began writing poetry as a college student at Princeton University. After graduation, he worked for a year as a reporter with the New York Times before joining the army. In 1942 he transferred to the U.S. Navy to become a pilot, serving on aircraft carriers in the Pacific Theater for the duration of World War II. In 1944, Meredith’s first collection, Love Letter from an Impossible Land, was chosen by Archibald MacLeish for publication in the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Meredith’s second collection, Ships and Other Figures, was published in 1948; four years later, Meredith re-enlisted to fly missions in the Korean War, receiving two Air Medals.
Following his military service Meredith pursued an academic career, teaching English at Connecticut College, the University of Hawaii, and Princeton University from 1955 to 1983. During this time Meredith published Open Sea and Other Poems (1958), as well as The Wreck of the “Thresher” and Other Poems (1964), whose title poem is an elegy to an American submarine lost at sea in 1963. In the same year that The Wreck of the “Thresher” and Other Poems was released, Meredith was elected as the Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1964, a position he held until 1987.
With Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems (1987), Meredith gathered poems from throughout his long writing career. The book provided an opportunity for critics to assess Meredith’s contribution to the genre. The poet Linda Gregerson, writing in Poetry, observed that Partial Accounts documents Meredith’s serious use of formal poetic structures. Meredith, Gregerson wrote, “is a poet who asks us seriously to consider the rhymed quatrain as a unit of perceptual pacing, the villanelle as the ambivalent and ritual simulation of fate, the sestina as a scaffolding for directed rumination, the sonnet as an instrument for testing the prodigious or the ineffable against the longing-for-shapeliness we know as ‘argument.’” She concluded, “Touched as they are by goodness, rich in craft and thoughtfulness, the poems collected here should find themselves well-treated by their readers.” Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems won both the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and a Los Angeles Times Book Award.
In 1983, Meredith sustained a stroke and began experiencing expressive aphasia, a condition that affected his ability to produce language. The stroke forced an early retirement from teaching and months of rehabilitation to regain his speech. Despite all of this, Meredith received the National Book Award for Poetry for Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems (1997), a compilation of both new and previously published poems. Both Partial Accounts and Effort at Speech were published after his stroke; Meredith received poetry’s highest awards after having been without speech for years. The poet Ed Hirsch praised Meredith as looking “generously and hard at our common world. He doesn’t slight the disastrous, 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 died in 2007 at the age of 88 in New London, CT. He had been nursed through his long illness by his partner, the poet and fiction writer Richard Harteis. The William Meredith Foundation and the William Meredith Center for the Arts continue his legacy through its residency program, poetry reading series, and various other activities. In 2008 Marathon, a movie about Meredith and Harteis, based on Harteis’s memoir of the same name, was released.
New York Times, New York, NY, 1940-41, began as copy boy, became reporter; Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, instructor in English and Woodrow Wilson fellow in writing, 1946-50; University of Hawaii, Honolulu, associate professor of English, 1950-51; Connecticut College, New London, associate professor, 1955-65, professor of English, 1965-83, professor emeritus. Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT, instructor at Bread Loaf School of English, 1958-62. Member of Connecticut Commission on the Arts, 1963-65; director of the humanities, Upward Bound Program, 1964-68; poetry consultant, Library of Congress, 1978-80.
- Love Letter from an Impossible Land, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1944.
- Ships and Other Figures, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1948.
- The Open Sea and Other Poems, Knopf (New York, NY), 1958.
- The Wreck of the "Thresher" and Other Poems, Knopf (New York, NY), 1964.
- Winter Verse, privately printed, 1964.
- Year-End Accounts, privately printed, 1965.
- Two Pages from a Colorado Journal, privately printed, 1967.
- Earth Walk: New and Selected Poems, Knopf (New York, NY), 1970.
- Hazard, the Painter, Knopf (New York, NY), 1975.
- The Cheer, Knopf (New York, NY), 1980.
- Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems, Knopf (New York, NY), 1987.
- Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems, TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1997.
- (Librettist) The Bottle Imp (opera, music by Peter Whiton; adaptation of the story by Robert Louis Stevenson), first produced in Wilton, Connecticut, 1958.
- (Editor) Shelley: Poems, Dell (New York, NY), 1962.
- (Translator) Guillaume Apollinaire, Alcools: Poems, 1898-1913, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1964.
- (Editor) University and College Poetry Prizes, 1960-1966, in Memory of Mrs. Fanny Fay Wood, Academy of American Poets (New York, NY), 1966.
- (Editor, with Mackie L. Jarrell) Eighteenth-Century Minor Poets, Dell (New York, NY), 1968.
- Selected Poems, 1977 (recording), Watershed, 1977.
- Reasons for Poetry and the Reason for Criticism (lectures), Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 1982.
- (Editor) Denise Levertov and others, translators, Poets of Bulgaria, Unicorn Press (Greensboro, NC), 1985.
- The Poet and the Poem, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 1990.
- Poems Are Hard to Read, University of Michigan Press, 1991.
- (Editor, with Richard Harteis) Window on the Black Sea: Bulgarian Poetry in Translation, Carnegie Mellon University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1992.
Contributor to magazines. Opera critic, Hudson Review, 1955-56. William Meredith's poems have been recorded for the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature, 1994, 1995. Meredith's collected manuscripts are housed at Middlebury College in Vermont.
- Dickey, James, Babel to Byzantium, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1968, pp. 197-198.
- Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI) Volume 5, 1980, pp. 46-53.
- Encyclopedia of American Literature, Continuum (New York, NY), 1999.
- Howard, Richard, Alone with America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States since 1950, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1971, revised edition, 1980.
- Robson, Jeremy, Corgi Modern Poets in Focus 2, Transworld Publishers, 1971, pp. 117-125.
- Rotella, Guy, Three Contemporary Poets of New England, Twayne (New York, NY), 1983.
- American Scholar, autumn, 1965.
- Antioch Review, spring, 1970.
- Atlantic, February, 1981, review of The Cheer, p. 94.
- Christian Century, April 19, 1944.
- Christian Science Monitor, October 15, 1970.
- Commonweal, January 24, 1958; December 4, 1981, Josephine Jacobsen, review of The Cheer, p. 692.
- Georgia Review, spring, 1976.
- Hollins Critic, February, 1979.
- Hudson Review, autumn, 1970; autumn, 1975; spring, 1981.
- Kenyon Review, summer, 1988.
- Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 30, 1980.
- Nation, June 15, 1970.
- New Republic, June 14, 1975.
- New York Review of Books, June 15, 1972.
- New York Times Book Review, September 27, 1964; September 21, 1975; March 22, 1981, Paul Breslin, review of The Cheer, p. 86; July 31, 1988, Edward Hirsch, review of Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems, p. 20.
- Parnassus, spring-summer, 1976; fall, 1981.
- Partisan Review, winter, 1971-72.
- Plum Review, fall-winter, 1992.
- Poetry, July, 1944; November, 1948; September, 1958; February, 1966; July, 1971; January, 1976; December, 1981, Robert B. Shaw, review of The Cheer, p. 173; February, 1988, Linda Gregerson, review of Partial Accounts, p. 423; August, 1998, Christian Wiman, review of Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems, p. 281.
- Publishers Weekly, April 10, 1987, John Mutter, review of Partial Accounts, p. 90; May 26, 1997, review of Effort at Speech, p. 80; November 24, 1997, John F. Baker, "National Book Awards Surprise," p. 48.
- Saturday Review, August 8, 1970.
- Saturday Review of Literature, April 29, 1944; May 15, 1948; March 22, 1958.
- Sewanee Review, winter, 1972; winter, 1973.
- Shenandoah, winter, 1971.
- Southwest Review, 1992, Neva Harrington, "The Language of the Tribe."
- Village Voice, August 18, 1987.
- Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1975; summer, 1981; autumn, 1987.
- Washington Post, October 11, 1978.
- World Literature Today, spring, 1989.
- Yale Review, December, 1944; June, 1958; winter, 1971.
- William Meredith Home Page, http://www.conncoll.edu/meredith/ (June 3, 2004).
Poems By WILLIAM MEREDITH
- "When Do We Inherit Them..."
- “Do Not Embrace Your Mind’s New Negro Friend”
- A Botanical Trope
- A Figure from Politics
- A Wasteland Sonnet
More poems by William Meredith (42 poems)
- Accidents of Birth
- Against Excess of Sea or Sun or Reason
- An Account of a Visit to Hawaii
- Five Accounts of a Monogamous Man
- For His Father
- Hazard Faces a Sunday in the Decline
- Iambic Feet Considered as Honorable Scars
- In a Copy of Yeats' Poems
- In Strange Events
- Love Letter from an Impossible Land
- My Mother's Life
- Navy Field
- Notes for an Elegy
- Quartet in F Major
- Reading My Poems from World War II
- Reductio Ad Absurdum Blues
- Rhode Island
- String Quartet
- Ten-Day Leave
- The Deciduous Trees
- The Fish-Vendor
- The Illiterate
- The Impressment
- The Jain Bird Hospital in Delhi
- The Revenant
- The Wreck of the Thresher
- Thoughts on One’s Head
- Words After Midnight, Forbidding Remorse
Audio & PodcastsPoem of the Day Poetry Off the Shelf
Two 9/11 Poems
Something terrible happens, and people want a poem to speak to them about it.
LIFE SPAN 1919–2007