William Meredith 1919-
(Full name William Morris Meredith) American poet, critic, dramatist, and editor.
Respected for his mastery of poetic forms, including the villanelle, sestina, ballad, and sonnet, Meredith writes controlled, well-crafted poems that incorporate his observations on such topics as nature, death, love, art, daily life, and the chaotic aspects of modern existence. His unobtrusive rhyme schemes and metrical patterns evoke a sense of serenity, gentle humor, and quiet contemplation.
Meredith was born on January 9, 1919, in New York City and raised in Darien, Connecticut. He attended Princeton University, receiving his degree in 1940; after graduation, he became a reporter for the New York Times. Encouraged by the poets Allen Tate and Muriel Rukeyser, Meredith began to write poetry. He served as Navy pilot during World War II, stationed first in the Aleutians and then in the Hawaiian Islands. The verse he wrote during these years was published in his first collection, Love Letter from an Impossible Land, in 1944. After the war, he became an instructor at Princeton from 1946 to 1950. He accepted a position as associate professor of English at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, but in 1952 he was called back to duty as a pilot in the Korean War. In his two years of service, he was awarded two Air Medals. Since 1955 he has held a teaching position at Connecticut College, becoming a full professor in 1964. From 1964 through 1989 he was chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, currently serving the academy as a chancellor emeritus. In 1988 Meredith received a Pulitzer Prize for his collection, Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems. He received the 1980 International Vaptsarov Prize in Poetry, and in 1989 was awarded a senior fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts.
Meredith's first collection, Love Letter from an Impossible Land, was chosen by Archibald MacLeish to be published in the Yale Series of Younger Poets. In many of his early poems, Meredith employs imagery and themes drawn from his experiences as a naval aviator during World War II and the Korean conflict. While also reflecting this background, his next three volumes, Ships and Other Figures, The Open Sea and Other Poems, and The Wreck of the Thresher and Other Poems, evince his thematic interest in nature, art, and family life. In Earth Walk: New and Selected Poems, Hazard, the Painter, and The Cheer, Meredith adopted a more colloquial and conversational tone in his observations on nature and personal experience. His 1987 collection, Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems, contains pieces from Meredith's seven previous volumes of poetry along with eleven new poems, providing an overview of the poet's career. Among the new poems in the volume, several recall events Meredith witnessed in his travels. The title poem of this collection concerns the poet's heart surgery and convalescence, and “Talking Back (To W. H. Auden)” and “The American Living-Room: A Tract” reflect his continuing attention to art and ordinary life.
Meredith is often classified with contemporary poets such as Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Randall Jarrell, Elizabeth Bishop, and Theodore Roethke. He is praised for his use of formality and restraint, and some reviewers assert that his poems are academic and meditative. His use of forms such as the villanelle, sestina, and the sonnet provoke debate amongst commentators as to the relevance and power of his work. His poems utilizing imagery from his experience as a Navy pilot in World War II are considered his most resonant and honest verse. Yet critics acknowledge that Meredith's poetry has matured throughout the years, and his contribution to twentieth-century American poetry has been influential and significant.