American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

MEREDITH, WILLIAM [MORRIS] (1919- ). With nine volumes of poetry to his credit, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems (1987) and the National Book Award-winning Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems (1997), William Meredith is also known for his critical studies and translations. While his earliest works were influenced by his experiences as a naval aviator in World War II and the Korean War, his more recent poems draw on his appreciation for the ambiguity of coastal settings.

Many of Meredith’s early poems, such as the series “Carrier,” “Transport,” and “Battlewagon” from Ships and Other Figures (1948), incorporate description of naval life and vessels. Through these images, Meredith explores the contrast between the orderliness of ships and their destructive potential, as well as humanity’s complex relationships with the sea. Naval themes also appear in later works. For instance, in “The Wreck of the Thresher,” a poem that appeared in The Wreck of the Thresher and Other Poems (1964), Meredith reflects on the sudden deaths of a submarine’s crew, reminding readers of the ocean’s relentless power and warning against overconfidence in technology. Similarly, in “February 14,” from Hazard, the Painter (1975), the image of a sentry walking off the deck of an aircraft carrier anchors the speaker’s musings on the union of spirit and body.

In other Meredith poems, sea imagery evokes less violent observations. In “Rhode Island,” for instance, a second poem from the Hazard sequence, the speaker views the seashore as a setting for sensual leisure. “Whorls,” printed in Earth Walk: New and Selected Poems (1970), draws on the imagery of ocean currents to suggest universal spiraling patterns that inform human interaction and observation. [See also SEA IMAGERY IN MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN POETRY]

Daniel W. Lane