JIM LEHRER: Professor Joseph Ellis won the National Book Award for Non-Fiction last night. Now a winner of a poetry award was William Meredith. Now 78 years old, Meredith's first book of poetry was written while he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
He has won numerous awards since, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1987. In '83, Meredith suffered a stroke, leaving him unable to speak for several years. His new book is appropriately titled "Effort at Speech." We asked poet laureate Robert Pinsky to read a Meredith poem.
ROBERT PINSKY, Poet Laureate: The title of this poem by William Meredith happens to be appropriate for this particular news day. The poem is called "Parents." "Parents" for Vanessa Meredith and Samuel Wolf Gizarez:
"What it must be like to be an angel or a squirrel, we can imagine sooner. The last time we go to bed good they are there, lying about the darkness. They dandle us once too often, these friends who become our enemies. Suddenly, one day their juniors are as old as we yearn to be. They get wrinkles where it is better smooth, odd coughs and smells.
It is grotesque how they go on loving us; we go on loving them. The effrontery, barely imaginable of having caused us and of how. Their lives--surely we can do better than that. This goes on for a long time. Everything they do is wrong, and the worst thing--they all do it--is to die, taking with them the last explanation how we came out of the wet sea, or wherever they got us from, taking the last link of that chain with them. Father, Mother, we cry, wrinkling, to our uncomprehending children and grandchildren."