This is the slyness of art: If you tell enough lies, you’re bound to say something true.William Meredith
by William Meredith
Touching your goodness, I am like a man
Who turns a letter over in his hand
And you might think this was because the hand
Was unfamiliar but, truth is, the man
Has never had a letter from anyone;
And now he is both afraid of what it means
And ashamed because he has no other means
To find out what it says than to ask someone.
His uncle could have left the farm to him,
Or his parents died before he sent them word,
Or the dark girl changed and want him for beloved.
Afraid and letter-proud, he keeps it with him.
What would you call his feeling for the words
That keep him rich and orphaned and beloved
William Meredith, poet, academic, translator, editor and one toughbird, wrote formal poetry at a time when formal poetry was revered. His talent was recognized young by Archibald MacLeish following his service in World War II. His writing received many awards including 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 just to name a few. Meredith’s remarkable success for an extended period of time feels a bit foreign now given how out of fashion his writing is today. It shows how challenging it is to remain relevant in poetry and how fast reader’s tastes and times change.
In 1983, Meredith had a stroke and began experiencing aphasia, limiting his speech, forcing retirement from teaching. Meredith recovered some speech after years of rehab but it forever altered his experience of communication. In part because of it, Meredith received the National Book Award for Poetry for Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems (1997). Meredith died in 2007 at the age of 88, having been lovingly nursed through his long illness by his partner, the poet and fiction writer Richard Harteis. Harties, himself a talented poet and author, is still alive and published a recent book of poetry; Plague Poems: 2020 Vision. Here’s a Youtube video of Harteis reading poetry this past New Year’s Eve. Meredith is quoted as saying; “Life is some kind of loathsome hag who is forever threatening to turn beautiful.” It feels to me that Meredith experienced ultimate beauty; love.
Words After Midnight, Forbidding Remorse
by William Meredith
Do not say to the gay game nay now lover
Under cover of love enough; does puritan twinge
Predict, against respite from passion, real change?
No, we shall want again later and greatly all over.
If the angular sky was not fashioned to conform
To these warm doings, then the stars there err,
For this our way always; therefore have care
That no third sleeper come to our bed bringing harm:
Forbid Fear, whether his face be righteous as this is
And his talk scriptual of ultimate places,
Or whether he wear rather War’s unfeatured face
Who sleeps out nightly now and seduces
Many men and innocent women in their beds;
Say always to strangers that I am all your needs.