How rewarding to know Mr. Smith

by chuckofish

Well, here’s something interesting. William Jay Smith, the author of more than fifty books of poetry, translation, children’s books, and literary criticism, has died. He was 97 and had had a distinguished career spanning fifty-two years.


He served in the US Naval Reserves during World War II, and afterward met and married the poet Barbara Howes and completed graduate study at Columbia University, at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and at University of Florence. He taught and lectured at many colleges and universities, including Williams and Hollins. He served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (the position now called Poet Laureate) from 1968 to 1970, and he had been a member of the Academy of Arts and Letters since 1975.

Furthermore, he grew up outside St. Louis and graduated from Washington University! I am ashamed to say I had never heard of him until I got the email about a distinguished alum dying.

So here in his honor is a poem he wrote about “Mr. Smith”

How rewarding to know Mr. Smith,
Whose writings at random appear!
Some think him a joy to be with
While others do not, it is clear.

His eyes are somewhat Oriental,
His fingers are notably long;
His disposition is gentle,
He will jump at the sound of a gong.

His chin is quite smooth and uncleft,
His face is clean-shaven and bright,
His right arm looks much like his left,
His left leg it goes with his right.

He has friends in the arts and the sciences;
He knows only one talent scout;
He can cope with most kitchen appliances,
But in general prefers dining out.

When young he collected matchboxes,
He now collects notebooks and hats;
He has eaten roussettes (flying foxes),
Which are really the next thing to bats!

He has never set foot on Majorca,
He has been to Tahiti twice,
But will seldom, no veteran walker,
Take two steps when one will suffice.

He abhors motorbikes and boiled cabbage;
Zippers he just tolerates;
He is wholly indifferent to cribbage,
And cuts a poor figure on skates.

He weeps by the side of the ocean,
And goes back the way that he came;
He calls out his name with emotion–
It returns to him always the same.

It returns on the wind and he hears it
While the waves make a rustle around;
The dark settles down, and he fears it,
He fears its thin, crickety sound.

He thinks more and more as time passes,
Rarely opens a volume on myth.
Until mourned by the tall prairie grasses,
How rewarding to know Mr. Smith!

Happy Thursday, y’all!