William Meredith, 88; award-winning poet

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

William Meredith, an American poet whose work spanned decades and who won numerous prizes, including the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, has died. He was 88.

Meredith, a professor at Connecticut College for nearly 30 years, died Wednesday of cardiac and respiratory failure at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London, Conn., said hospital spokesman Kelly Anthony.

Meredith received more than two dozen awards, grants, fellowships and honorary degrees. His book “Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems” won the 1987 Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

His book “Effort at Speech” won the National Book Award for poetry in 1997.


From 1978 to 1980 he was a poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, the position now known as poet laureate.

One of his best-known short poems was “A Major Work” from 1957:

Poems are hard to read

Pictures are hard to see


Music is hard to hear

And people are hard to love

But whether from brute need

Or divine energy


At last mind eye and ear

And the great sloth heart will move.

Born in New York City in 1919, William Morris Meredith graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University in 1940 with a bachelor’s degree in English and wrote his senior thesis on Robert Frost.

His first book of poems, “Love Letter From an Impossible Land,” was published in 1944 while he served as a Navy aviator in the Pacific during World War II. He also served in the Korean War.


Meredith was a professor of English at Connecticut College from 1955 to 1983. He retired in 1983 after suffering a severe stroke that left him partially paralyzed and with speaking difficulties.

He recovered some ability to speak through years of therapy and gave poetry readings, including two last month.

He is survived by his longtime companion, writer and poet Richard Harteis.