William Meredith Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

William Meredith worked as the opera critic for Hudson Review from 1955 to 1956. He wrote the libretto, based on a Robert Louis Stevenson story, for Peter Whiton’s opera The Bottle Imp, which was produced in 1958. Meredith edited and introduced a selected edition of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poetry (1962); in 1968, along with Mackie L. Jarrell, he edited and introduced Eighteenth Century English Minor Poets. He translated Guillaume Apollinaire’s poetry in a work that appeared in 1964 as Alcools: Poems, 1898-1913. In 1986, a volume of Bulgarian poetry, edited and introduced by Meredith, was published. His first nonfiction book, Poems Are Hard to Read, was published in 1991. In addition, he wrote a variety of reviews and essays.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

William Meredith’s place in the New England literary tradition and twentieth century American poetry is secure. Early in his career, his poetry was highly imitative and academic. He eschewed experimentation, and he maintained a reticence and control that constricted his development and caused some to dismiss his understated, formal style as not engaging. Starting with the appearance of his Ships and Other Figures in 1948, however, Meredith moved consistently toward a less academic style and a more immediate voice. Since that time, his importance to American poetry has steadily increased.

Meredith’s superlative accomplishments have been widely praised by his peers. He was the recipient of many honors, including the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award (1943), the Harriet Monroe Poetry Award (1944) and the Oscar Blumenthal Prize (1953) from Poetry magazine, two Rockefeller Foundation grants (1948, 1968), a National Institute for the Arts and Letters grant in literature (1958), the Borestone Mountain Poetry Award (1964) for “The Wreck of the Thresher,” the Russell Loines Award (1966), the Van Wyck Brooks Award (1971) for Earth Walk, a National Endowment for the Arts grant (1972), the International Vaptsarov Prize for literature (1979), the Carl Sandburg Award from the International Platform Association (1979), the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (1987) and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry (1988) for Partial Accounts, and an Academy of American Poets Fellowship (1990).

Meredith was National Endowment for the Arts Senior Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, a Ford Foundation Fellow, and a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at Princeton University. Effort of Speech won the National Book Award in Poetry in 1997. Connecticut College recognized his contribution to its institution in two ways: In 1988, he received an honorary doctoral degree, and in 1996, he won the Connecticut College Medal and the William Meredith Endowed Professorship was created. In 1998, he received another honorary doctoral degree, this time from the American University in Bulgaria. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1968-2007) and chancellor of the Academy of American Poets (1963-1987). In addition, Meredith served as consultant in poetry (poet laureate) to the Library of Congress from 1978 to 1980. In 1994 and 1995, Meredith’s poems were recorded for the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Fox, Margalit. “William Meredith, Eighty-eight, Poet Who Wed Depth to Form, Dies.” The New York Times, June 1, 2007, p. A23. Obituary of Meredith describes his life and poetic works, noting his use of poetic form and structure to bring order to the world.

Howard, Richard. “William Meredith: ’All of a Piece and Clever and at Some Level, True.’” In Alone with America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States Since 1950. New York: Atheneum, 1980. An enlightening if brief study of Meredith’s work through Hazard, the Painter. Howard’s concern with Meredith’s quest for “order and delight,” using a style that “is partly evasive and sly, party loving and solicitous,” is informed and scholarly.

Ludwig, Richard M. “The Muted Lyrics of William Meredith.” Princeton University Library Chronicle 25 (Autumn, 1963): 73-85. An early and essential critical study of Meredith’s first three volumes of poetry. The article includes other writers’ comments about Meredith, a biographical sketch, and a comprehensive list of early Meredith publications.

Meredith, William. “The Frost Tradition: A Conversation with William Meredith.” Interview by Gregory Fitz Gerald and Paul Ferguson. Southwest Review 57 (Spring, 1972): 108-117. This interview, originally produced for...

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