Winner, 1997 National Book Award for Poetry
A contemporary of Berryman, Bishop, and Lowell, William Meredith shared neither the bohemian excesses of the Beats nor the exhibitionist excesses of the "confessional" poets. Rather, he was known as a poet whose unadorned, formal verse marked him as a singular voice. Effort at Speech, the definitive collection of Meredith's life work, contains poems chosen by the author from throughout his career, as well as several new works and an essay by Michael Collier placing Meredith in his times.
|Publisher:||Northwestern University Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
William Morris Meredith, Jr. (January 9, 1919 – May 30, 2007) was an American poet and educator. He was Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1978 to 1980.
Read an Excerpt
Effort at Speech
New and Selected Poems
By William Meredith
Northwestern University PressCopyright © 1997 William Meredith
All rights reserved.
From Love Letter from an Impossible Land (1944)
A Kodiak Poem
Precipitous is the shape and stance of the spruce
Pressed against the mountains in gestures of height,
Pleasing to Poussin the white, repetitious peaks.
Fonder mountains surely curl around your homeland,
Fondle the home farms with a warmer green;
Follow these hills for cold only, or for fool's gold.
Easy winds sweep lengthwise along the known places,
Essay brittle windows and are turned away;
Eskimo houses had seal-gut windows that the east wind drummed.
A fish people now, once fur hunters and fierce,
Fire-needing, they buried their dead with faggots,
And when a man went to their hell, he froze.
Remembering the lands before but much more real,
Look where aloft, you cannot say how except rarely,
The raven, rich in allusion, rides alone.
In Memoriam Stratton Christensen
Laughing young man and fiercest against sham,
Then you have stayed at sea, at feckless sea,
With a single angry curiosity
Savoring fear and faith and speckled foam?
A salt end to what was sweet begun:
Twenty-four years and your integrity
And already a certain number touched like me
With a humor and a hardness from the sun.
Without laughter we have spent your wit
In an unwitnessed fight at sea, perhaps not won,
And whether wisely we will never know;
But like Milton's friend's, to them that hear of it,
Your death is a puzzler that will tease them on
Reckless out on the thin, important floe.
Limped out of the hot sky a hurt plane,
Held off, held off, whirring pretty pigeon,
Hit then and scuttled to a crooked stop.
The stranger pilot who emerged — this was the seashore,
War came suddenly here — talked to the still mechanics
Who nodded gravely. Flak had done it, he said,
From an enemy ship attacked.
They wheeled it with love
Into the dark hangar's mouth and tended it.
Coffee and cake for the pilot then who sat alone
In the restaurant, reading the numbered sheets
That tell about weather.
After, toward dusk,
Mended the stranger plane went back to the sky.
His curly-headed picture, and mother's and medal's pictures
Were all we knew of him after he rose again,
Those few electric jewels against the moth and whining sky
Myself, Rousseau, a Few Others
From the boy's identification
The playground difference functions,
And hesitancy here
Marks surely as tow hair
Or unnatural height from glands,
Sets the peculiar bonds.
The earliest comparing
Disclosed the need for choosing,
Where the rest played and fought;
Even the collective sport
Became only imitation
Of others' spontaneous action.
Choosing is the full-grown gland
Yet to tell it to most were unkind
(Like the off-color joke
Told to a hunchback),
Provoking a desire
For what they cannot share.
This is the daily luxury
Which alone can rouse us early
And kisses us off to work;
And to this at night
We return with promises
Until the last choice passes.
A Metaphysical Sonnet
More concert than the quick have, have the dead
Whose centripetal journeys are as one,
While we yearn to the several quarters of the sun,
And the moon besides, and the stars, are in our heads.
And how do we follow whither we are led?
Not like the dead, whom gravity alone
Moves as a unit, heart and hand and tongue,
But partially, now this, now that ahead:
Against the thing not willed, the act is done,
Against the thing undone, the words are said.
This is a stuff that cannot come to rest
For it owns ties to heaven and to the ground;
While there are achings in the lodestone flesh
Still will the quick move out and the dead move down.
Of course across the winter wood
Love comes through the branches;
Cold converts from soft to hard
And ache and chirp the birches.
But still the sky comes on and still
The water smiles regardless
As it holds arrested in the well
Like a rich woman, childless.
Winter love is love at sight
With no thing carried over,
Each in the white sufficient light
Has looked upon the other;
And who would wish the wood to Spring?
Summer spoil the season!
Love in the winter wood has stung
And stiffens like a poison.
Quartet in F Major
Great Beethoven, you trouble me this watchful night
singing again again how sweet it is
this freedom, how wild it is this fight,
singing how cunning are these enemies.
Like a white northland, icy-white and flying
are the aspirations that scrape these chill strings,
and are not tune nor harmony nor a wild sighing,
but strings only that hope, having known singing.
Taut strings, by whom were you taught this wisdom
that returns on itself with such insistence
and urges love and singing for a kingdom?
I have heard the single answer of the instruments:
Beethoven, Beethoven only among ghosts
instructs the four strings, haunts my night-strange post.
Notes for an Elegy
The alternative to flying is cowardice,
And what is said against it excuses, excuses;
Its want was always heavy in those men's bodies
Who foresaw it in some detail; and failing that,
The rest were shown through its skyey heats and eases
In sleep, awoke uncertain whether their waking cry
Had been falling fear only, or love and falling fear.
When the sudden way was shown, its possibility
In terms of the familiar at last shown,
(How absurdly simple the principle after all!)
Any tyrant should have sensed it was controversial:
Instrument of freedom; rights, not Wrights;
Danger should never be given out publicly.
The men could easily have been disposed of,
They and their fragile vehicle. Then the sky
Would perhaps have darkened, earth shaken, nothing more.
In practice the martyrdom has been quiet, statistical,
A fair price. This is what airmen believe.
The transition to battle was smooth from here.
Who resents one bond resents another,
And who has unshouldered earth-restraining hand
Is not likely to hear out more reasonable tyrannies.
The woods where he died were dark even at sunup,
Oak and long-needle pine that had come together
Earlier, and waited for the event at the field's edge.
At sunset when the sky behind was gay
One had seen the lugubrious shapes of the trees,
Bronze and terrible, but had never known the reason,
Never thought they were waiting for someone in particular.
They took him at night, when they were at their darkest.
How they at last convinced him is not known:
The crafty engine would not fall for their softness,
(Oh, where were you then, six hundred cunning horses?)
In the end it had tom hungrily through the brush
To lie alone in the desired clearing. Nor the wings;
(And you, with your wide silver margin of safety?)
They were for the field, surely, where they so often
Had eased their load to ground. No, the invitation
Must have been sent to the aviator in person:
Perhaps a sly suggestion of carelessness,
A whispered invitation perhaps to death.
He was not badly disfigured compared to some,
But even a little stream of blood where death is
Will whimper across a forest floor,
Run through that whole forest shouting.
Him now unpersoned, warm, and quite informal,
Dead as alive, raise softly sober interns;
Lift gently, God, this wholly airborne one.
Leads out all his life to this violent wood.
Note that he had not fought one public battle,
Met any fascist with his skill, but died
As it were in bed, the waste conspicuous;
This is a costly wreck and costly to happen on:
Praise and humility sound through its siren shrieks,
And dedication follows in car.
The morning came up foolish with pink clouds
To say that God counts ours a cunning time,
Our losses part of an old secret, somehow no loss.
June: Dutch Harbor
To Charles Shain
In June, which is still June here, but once removed
From other Junes, chill beardless high-voiced cousin season,
The turf slides grow to an emerald green.
There between the white-and-black of the snow and ash,
Between the weak blue of the rare sky
Or the milkwhite languid gestures of the fog,
And the all-the-time wicked terminal sea,
There, there, like patches of green neon,
See it is June with the turf slides.
Where the snow streams crease the fields darkly
The rite of flowers is observed, and because it is a new land
There is no great regard to precedent:
Violets the size of pansies, the huge anemone,
Sea-wishing lupine that totters to the brink;
Others are: wild geranium, flag, cranberry, a kind of buttercup.
In the morning sandpipers stumble on the steel mats,
Sparrows sing on the gun, faraway eagles are like eagles.
On the map it says, The Entire Aleutian Chain Is a Bird Sanctuary,
And below, Military Reservation: This Airspace To Be Flown Over
Only by Authority of the Secretary of the Navy.
Fly just above the always-griping sea
That bitches at the bitter rock the mountains throw to it,
Fly there with the permission — subject always to revoke —
Of the proper authorities,
Under the milkwhite weaving limbs of the fog,
Past the hurriedly erected monuments to you,
Past the black and past the very green.
But for your car, jeweled and appointed all for no delight,
But for the strips that scar the islands that you need,
But for your business, you could make a myth.
Though you are drawn by a thousand remarkable horses
On fat silver wings with a factor of safety of four,
And are sutured with steel below and behind and before,
And can know with your fingers the slightest unbalance of forces,
Your mission is smaller than Siegfried's, lighter than Tristan's,
And there is about it a certain undignified haste.
Even with flaps there is a safe minimum;
Below that the bottom is likely to drop out.
Some of the soldiers pressed flowers in June, indicating faith;
The one who knew all about birds spun in that month.
It is hard to keep your mind on war, with all that green.
For Air Heroes
I sing them spiraling in flame,
Them gliding, all fuel spent,
Checked by no opening silk plume:
The dedicated and the dead,
Themselves quite lost,
Articulate at last;
Sing them telling what they meant,
No small repeated dream,
As public and grandiose their want
As their last lowering scene:
Burning, dropping host,
Articulate at last;
And sing them making purchases
Beyond our furthest means,
Themselves the greatly valued pledges;
Oh, let the contract somehow be redeemed!
They speak for most,
Articulate at last.
High plane for whom the winds incline,
Who own but to your own recall,
There is a flaw in your design
For you must fall.
High cloud whose proud and angry stuff
Rose up in heat against earth's thrall,
The nodding law has time enough
To wait your fall.
High sky, full of high shapes and vapors,
Against whose vault nothing is tall,
It is written that your torch and tapers
Headlong shall fall.
Only an outward-aching soul
Can hold in high disdain these ties
And fixing on a farther pole
Will sheerly rise.
To my parents
House that holds me, household that I hold dear,
Woman and man at the doorway, come what will
Hospitable, more than you know I enter here,
In retreat, in laughter, in the need of your love still.
More perhaps than you fancy, fancy finds
This room with books and answers in the walls;
I have continual reference to the lines
I learned here early, later readings false.
More than you dream, I wake from a special dream
To nothing but remorse for miles around,
And steady my bed at this unchanging scene
When the changing dogs dispute a stranger town.
Oh, identity is a traveling-piece with some,
But here is what calls me, here what I call home.
Excerpted from Effort at Speech by William Meredith. Copyright © 1997 William Meredith. Excerpted by permission of Northwestern University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ForewordFrom Love Letter from an Impossible Land (1944)A Kodiak PoemIn Memoriam Stratton ChristensenNavy FieldMyself, Rousseau, and a Few OthersA Metaphysical SonnetWinter SongQuartet in F MajorNotes for an ElegyJune: Dutch HarborFor Air HeroesAirman's VirtueTen-Day LeaveFrom Ships and Other Figures (1948)EnvoiCarrierTransportBattlewagon'Do Not Embrace Your Mind's New Negro Friend'A Birthday ExercisePerhaps the Best TimeIn a Copy of Yeats' PoemsFrom The Open Sea and Other Poems (1958)A Major WorkIn Memory of Donald A. StaufferThe Open SeaSonnet on Rare AnimalsNotre Dame de CartresStarlightOn Falling Asleep by FirelightThe IlliterateSunrise with CrowsA View of the Brooklyn BridgeGodchildrenMiniatureAn Account of a Visit to HawaiiThe FishvendorOriginal AversionsThe Fear of BeastsThe Chinese BanyanBachelorHomage to a Rake-HellTwo Japanese PoemsPastoralThoughts on One's Head (IN PLASTER, WITH A BRONZE WASH)Rus in UrbeLetter from Mexico (VERA CRUZ, 10 FEBRUARY, 186-)A Korean Woman Seated by a WallFrom The Wreck of the Thresher (1963)The Wrech of the Thresher (LOST AT SEA, APRIL 10, 1963)OrpheusOn Falling Asleep to BirdsongFor His FatherRootsAn Old Field Mowed for Appearances' SakeAn Assent to WildflowersFor Guillaume ApollinaireFive Poems of Guillaume Apollinaire (TRANSLATIONS)Fables about ErrorThe Couple OverheadThe BalletFive Accounts of a Monogamous ManAbout PoetryThe PreponderanceAn Old Photograph of Strangers ConsequencesFrom Earth Walk: New and Selected Poems (1970)Winter Verse for His SisterWaking Dream about a Lost ChildFledglingsWalter Jenks' BathPoem about MorningEffort at SpeechHydraulicsAbout OperaDalhousie FarmWhorlsIn Memory of Robert FrostEarth WalkLast ThingsFrom Hazard, the Painter (1975)Hazard Faces a Sunday in the DeclineHazard's OptimismMusicWholesomePliticsWhere He's Staying NowSquire Hazard WalksLook at Me! Look at Me!His Plans for Old AgeAt the Natural History MuseumRhode IslandThe Ghosts of the HouseNauseaNixon's the OneFebruary 14Winter: He Shapes UpFrom The Cheer (1980)The cheerWinter on the RiverTwo Masks Unearthed in BulgariaFreezingRecollection of BellagioCountry StarsHomage to Paul Mellon, I. M. Pei, Their Gallery, and Washington CityOn Jenkins' HillA Firescreen at Mount VernonA Mild-Spoken Citizen Finally Writes to the White HouseAccidents of BirthAt the Confluence of the Colorado and the Little ColoradoPoemThe Seasons' DifferenceFor Two Lovers in the Year 2075 in the Canadian WoodsMemoirsGive and TakeParentsMy Mother's LifeIdeogramGrievancesHere and ThereRemembering Robert LowellDreams of SuicideIn Loving Memory of the Late Author of Dream SongsJohn and AnneDying AwayThe RevenantCrossing OverNot BothREM SleepOf KindnessExamples of Created SystemsFrom Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems (1987)The American Living Room: A TractThe Jain Bird Hospital in DelhiThe Three Sorts of ViolenceAmong OurselvesIn the Rif MountainsTree MarriageTalking Back (To W. H. Auden)A Couple of TreesWhat I Remember the Writers Telling Me When I Was YoungNew PoemsOf Possessions, in WinterHis StudentsAt the PradoJournal Entry (With the Udalls, June 1968)Jouranl Entry (April 1969, Villa Serbelloni)A Vision of Good SecretsThe Quarrel'In the Middle of the Long Friendship'Poem to MeHoused (A Report on a Visiting Dog)English AccountsGraceA Note about the Author