Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1964
Dedication: For Robert Drew
I first began following your works when I read "The Wreck of the Thresher" in a Borestone Volume- it won, as I recall. And I said to myself that someday I would, with luck and dedication, write a poem as true, deep, and fine as that one. Not too many poems hit me hard, but "Thresher" does, and Richard Wilbur's "Cicadas," and Frost's "To Earthward," and Jim Dickey's "The Heaven of Animals"- poems that have been lessons from the masters...poems of luminous honesty and depth, poems of permanence, undeniable.
-Letter from William Heyen to William Meredith, June 21, 1971
Under a crust of your noble influences: Frost, Auden, Hopkins--vibrates a lilting gallantry of pathos. Something that was fading rapidly from Scotch poetry by the time of Robert Burns, and is all but non-existent in English proper. Time passes, but your poems bear up.
-Postcard from Robert Lowell to William Meredith, October 5, 1963
The Thames River on Meredith's property.
(Lost at sea, April 10, 1963)
I stand on the ledge where rock runs into the river
As the night turns brackish with morning, and mourn the drowned.
Here the sea is diluted with river; I watch it slaver
Like a dog curing of rabies. Its ravening over,
Lickspittle ocean nuzzles the dry ground.
(But the dream that woke me was worse than the sea's gray
Slip-slap; there are no such sounds by day.)
This crushing of people is something we live with.
Daily, by unaccountable whim
Or caught up in some harebrained scheme of death,
Tangled in cars, dropped from the sky, in flame,
Men and women break the pledge of breath:
And now under water, gone all jetsam and small
In the pressure of oceans collected, a squad of brave men in a hull.
(Why can't our dreams be content with the terrible facts?
The only animal cursed with responsible sleep.
We trace disaster always to our own acts.
I met a monstrous self trapped in the black deep:
All these years, he smiled, I've drilled at sea
For this crush of water. Then he saved only me.)
We invest ships with life. Look at the harbor
At first light: with better grace than men
In their movements the vessels run to their labors
Working the fields that the tide has made green again;
Their beauty is womanly, they are named for ladies and queens,
Although by a wise superstition these are called
After fish, the finned boats, silent and submarine.
The crushing of any ship has always been held
In dread, like a house burned or a great tree felled.
I think how sailors laugh, as if cold and wet
And dark and lost were their private, funny derision
And I can judge then what dark compression
Astonishes them now, their sunken faces set
Unsmiling, where the contents sluice to and fro
And without humor, somehwere northeast of here and below.
(Sea-brothers, I lower you in the ingenuity of dreams,
Strange lungs and bells to escape in; let me stay aboard last-
We amend our dreams in half-sleep. There it seems
Easy to talk to the severe dead and explain the past.
Now they are saying, Do not be ashamed to stay alive,
You have dreamt nothing that we do not forgive.
And gentlier, Study something deeper than yourselves,
As, how the heart, when it turns diver, delves and saves.)
Whether we give assent to this or rage
Is a question of temprament and does not matter.
Some will has been done past our understanding,
Past our guilt surely, equal to our fears.
Dullards, we set again to the cryptic blank page
Where the sea schools us with terrible water.
The noise of a boat breaking up and its men is in our ears.
The bottom here is too far down for our sounding;
The ocean was salt before we crawled to tears.
Reprinted from Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems by William Meredith, published by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press in 1997. Copyright © 1997 by William Meredith. All rights reserved; used by permission of Northwestern University Press and the author.
Other poems from The Wreck of the Thresher
To The Open Sea... | To Earth Walk...