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Selected Works by William Meredith

For a complete listing of Meredith's works with examples of poems, letters and reviews of his books, visit the following link: Additional Works of William Meredith from Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Shane Library, Connecticut College

Volumes of Poetry

  • Love Letter From An Impossible Land (1944)
  • Ships and Other Figures (1948)
  • The Open Sea (1958)
  • The Wreck of the Thresher (1963)
  • Earth Walk (1970)
  • Hazard, The Painter (1975)
  • The Cheer (1980)
  • Partial Accounts (1987)
  • Effort at Speech Bilingual English-Bulgarian Edition (1994)
  • Effort at Speech (1997)

A Couple Trees - William Meredith

A Couple of Trees

The two oaks lean apart for light.
They aren't as strong as lone oaks
but in a wind they give each other lee.

Daily since I cleared them I can see
them, tempting to chain saw and ax—
two hardwoods, leaning like that for light.

A hurricane tore through the state one night,
picking up roof and hen-house, boat and dock.
Those two stood: leafless, twigless, giving lee.

Last summer ugly slugs unleafed the trees.
Environmental kids wrote Gypsy Moths Suck.
The V of naked oaks leaned to the light

for a few weeks, then put out slight
second leaves, scar tissue pale as bracts,
bandaged comrades, lending each other lee.

How perilous in one another’s V
our lives are, yoked in this yoke:
two men, leaning apart for light,
but in a wind who give each other lee.


A Major Work

Poems are hard to read
Pictures are hard to see
Music is hard to hear
And people are hard to love

But whether from brute need
Or divine energy
At last mind eye and ear
And the great sloth heart will move.


The Wreck of the Thresher


(Lost at Sea, April 10, 1963)

I stand on the ledge where rock runs into the river
As the night turns brackish with morning, and mourn the drowned.
Here the sea is diluted with river; I watch it slaver
Like a dog curing of rabies. Its ravening over,
Lickspittle ocean nuzzles the dry ground.
(But the dream that woke me was worse than the sea's gray
Slip-slap; there are no such sounds by day.)

This crushing of people is something we live with.
Daily, by unaccountable whim
Or caught up in some harebrained scheme of death,
Tangled in cars, dropped from the sky, in flame,
Men and women break the pledge of breath:
And now under water, gone all jetsam and small
In the pressure of oceans collected, a squad of brave men in a hull.

(Why can't our dreams be content with the terrible facts?
The only animal cursed with responsible sleep,
We trace disaster always to our own acts.
I met a monstrous self trapped in the black deep:
All these years, he smiled, I've drilled at sea
For this crush of water. Then he saved only me.)

We invest ships with life. Look at a harbor
At first light: with better grace than men
In their movements the vessels run to their labors
Working the fields that the tide has made green again;
Their beauty is womanly, they are named for ladies and queens,
Although by a wise superstition these are called
After fish, the finned boats, silent and submarine.
The crushing of any ship has always been held
In dread, like a house burned or a great tree felled.

I think of how sailors laugh, as if cold and wet
And dark and lost were their private, funny derision
And I can judge then what dark compression
Astonishes them now, their sunken faces set
Unsmiling, where the currents sluice to and fro
And without humor, somewhere northeast of here and below.

(Sea-brothers, I lower to you the ingenuity of dreams,
Strange lungs and bells to escape in; let me stay aboard last
We amend our dreams in half-sleep. Then it seems
Easy to talk to the severe dead and explain the past.
Now they are saying, Do not be ashamed to stay alive,
You have dreamt nothing that we do not forgive.
And gentlier, Study something deeper than yourselves,
As, how the heart, when it turns diver, delves and saves.)

Whether we give assent to this or rage
Is a question of temperament and does not matter.
Some will has been done past our understanding,
Past our guilt surely, equal to our fears.
Dullards, we are set again to the cryptic blank page
Where the sea schools us with terrible water.
The noise of a boat breaking up and its men is in our ears.
The bottom here is too far down for our sounding;
The ocean was salt before we crawled to tears.


Submarine Force Museum Invitation honoring the loss of USS THRESHER (SSN 593) and the work of William Meredith and Stoimen Stiolov

The Wreck of the Thresher Valentin's Translation

Selected Readings read by William Meredith (Audio)

1.  Introduction
2.  A Major Work
3.  Carrier
4.  Country Stars
5.  The Illiterate
6.  Jessica
7.  Parents
8.  What I Remember
9.  Winter
10. Original Meredith Session


All Things Considered, June 2, 2007 · He was a writer who "heard language with a perfect pitch." Pulitzer Prize winning poet William Meredith died this week at the age of 88. Debbie Elliott speaks with Michael Collier about Meredith, his former teacher.


William reading "Crossing Over" circa 1964:




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