William Meredith: Washington, DC

from “On Jenkins’ Hill”

(The old name for Capitol Hill)

The weather came over this low knoll, west to east,
before there was a word for leaf-fall, before
there were any leaves. Weathers will nuzzle and preen
whatever earthwork we leave here. And we know now,
don’t we, that we will be leaving, by fire or ice,
our own or His, or at the very worst, nobody’s.
May that be a long time off. Now,
it is our hill for debating.
The dome at the top of the hill, heavy with reference,
is iron out of the soil, yearned up as if it were white stone,
the way for a time our thought and rhetoric yearned upward.
Here our surrogates sit. It is almost too much for them,
some days, to make the world go around.
They are urged to clean it, to sully it more grandly,
To let it alone. We have elected them, they are our elect.

About the Author

William Meredith

Prize winner, 1988

William Meredith was born in New York City in 1919, graduated from Princeton in 1940, and served as a naval aviator during the Second World War. During his service, his first book of poems, Love Letter from an Impossible Land, was published. After teaching for a few years while still in the U.S. Navy Reserves—first at Princeton, then at the University of Hawaii—Meredith returned to the Navy as a pilot in the Korean War. Always writing and publishing poetry, he went on to win a Pulitzer Prize (for Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems) as well as the National Book Award (for Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems), among other prizes and distinctions. Meredith served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and as a consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress.

Excerpted from poetryfoundation.org