William Morris Meredith Jr.

(January 9, 1919 – May 30, 2007 / New York City)

Biography of William Morris Meredith Jr.

William Morris Meredith Jr. poet

an American poet and educator. He was Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1978 to 1980.


Early Years

Meredith was born in New York City to William Morris Meredith, Sr. and Nelley Keyser. He began writing while a college student at Princeton University where with his first volume of poetry Love Letter from an Impossible Land he was selected by Archibald MacLeish for publication as part of Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition. He graduated magna cum laude from Princeton in 1940, writing a senior thesis on Robert Frost.


He worked briefly for the New York Times before joining the United States Navy as a flier. Meredith re-enlisted in the Korean War, receiving two Air Medals.

In 1988 Meredith was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and a Los Angeles Times Book Award for Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems and in 1997 he received the National Book Award for Effort at Speech. Meredith was also awarded a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize, the Carl Sandburg Award, and the International Vaptsarov Prize in Poetry.

From 1964 to 1987 Meredith served as Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

From 1978 to 1980, Meredith was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, the position which in 1985 became the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. He has the distinction of being the first gay poet to receive this honor.

Meredith taught at Princeton University, the University of Hawaii and at Connecticut College from 1955 to 1983. In 1983, he suffered a stroke and was immobilized for two years. As a result of the stroke he suffered with expressive aphasia, which affected his ability to produce language. Meredith ended his teaching career and could not write poetry during this period. He regained many of his language skills after intensive therapy and traveling to Britain for treatment.

A long time admirer of the Irish poet W. B. Yeats, in the summer of 2006 Meredith fulfilled a long-time ambition of visiting Yeats's spiritual homeplace of Sligo, Ireland. While there he also attended the renowned Yeats International Summer School, which attracts many renowned academics and admirers of Yeats to Sligo every summer.

Personal Life

Meredith died in New London, Connecticut, near his home in Montville, where he lived with his partner of 36 years, the poet Richard Harteis. A film about his life, Marathon, premiered on November 19, 2008 in Mystic, Connecticut.


1988 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry – Partial Accounts

1997 National Book Award for Poetry – Effort at Speech

1975 Guggenheim Fellowship

William Morris Meredith Jr.'s Works:


Love Letter from an Impossible Land, Yale University Press, (1944)
Ships and Other Figures (1948)
The Open Sea and Other Poems, Knopf, (1957)
The Wreck of the Thresher and Other Poems, Knopf, (1964)
Earth Walk: New and Selected Poems, Knopf, (1970)
Hazard the Painter Knopf, (1975)
The Cheer, Knopf, (1980)
Dreams of Suicide (1980)
Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems, Knopf, (1987)
Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems. Northwestern University Press. 1997.


Reasons for Poetry, and The Reason for Criticism (1982)
Poems Are Hard to Read, University of Michigan Press, 1991

Translation and Anthology

Alcools, Guillaume Apollinaire (Translator, 1964)
Poets of Bulgaria Unicorn Press, (Editor, 1985)

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PoemHunter.com Updates


Going abruptly into a starry night
It is ignorance we blink from, dark, unhoused;
There is a gaze of animal delight
Before the human vision. Then, aroused
To nebulous danger, we may look for easy stars,
Orion and the Dipper; but they are not ours,

These learned fields. Dark and ignorant,
Unable to see here what our forebears saw,

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