In Deep

Author photo by Judith Matchett  
Airplants offers us a generous selection from William H. Matchett’s several books written over a long writing career, including “Water Ouzel,” which received national acclaim after appearing in The New Yorker. We are fortunate to have this compilation from one of the country’s foremost poets. About Airplants, Richard Wilbur has commented, “Early and late, William Matchett has been a masterly and enjoyable poet. I am struck, in reading this ample collection, by the fluent variety which gives us so much of the world: we are taken to hear the swamp robin, and we waken in Paris or in Emily Dickinson’s garden. At the same time, these poems so full of wit and range and conversancy, are distinguished throughout by a simple humanity of spirit. And W.S. Merwin notes that "William Matchett's poetry has been gathered over a lifetime. It is written in a quiet tone, in a pastoral mode, and it takes its strength and its merit from a closeness and fondness of his observations of the... world around him. It is in the tradition of Wordsworth and Frost..." The endorsements others have written for one of William Matchett’s earlier books, Fireweed and Other Poems, apply equally well to the new collection, which includes work from Fireweed. Richard Hugo says this: “When William Matchett writes ‘The sky just as it is, the fields as they are, / the road, the effort, the world spilling in all directions,’ he is not only rendering a moment in his life, he is describing his poetry. He has found a language varied enough to catch that spilling world and consistent enough to present it with precision and fidelity. His poems are sure evidence he has earned that language as well as the mature, humane wisdom it carries.” And this from Archibald MacLeish: “ ‘ . . . the molten Arno.’ A less gifted evoker of images would have needed a dozen words or more and even then would have missed the metallic colors, the sullen movement, the old flow—the molten Arno. This is a book that needs no praise. It speaks for itself in its own language which is also ours.” For his part, James Dickey has commented that “William Matchett’s poems have a sweet and convincing balance; he writes with economy, ease and naturalness."

Inner photo courtesy Emily Dickinson Museum
and the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections Dept. Photo surround by the author.

William Matchett was born in Chicago and educated in its public schools until his final two years of high school at Westtown, a Quaker boarding school, where his commencement essay was a long poem. During World War II he was assigned, as a conscientious objector, first to a Civilian Public Service camp and then, as a guinea pig, to the Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory in Cambridge, Mass. After graduating from Swarthmore with highest honors in 1949, he married and returned to Cambridge to pursue a PhD at Harvard. While there, he had a teaching assistantship in Archibald MacLeish’s popular poetry course, and was one of the founders of the Poets’ Theatre, remaining active with it until 1954. Matchett’s entire teaching career since then has been at the University of Washington, where he is now an Emeritus Professor. His work has appeared in many of the country’s leading literary journals and magazines, including The New Yorker, Harper’s, The New Republic, The Southern Review, Shenandoah, Harvard Magazine, New World Writing and the like. His poem "Ruby Throat” won the Furioso Poetry Prize in 1952, and Fireweed was awarded the Washington State Governor’s Award. Matchett spent nineteen years as editor of the Modern Language Quarterly and worked with Carolyn Kizer in editing the first years of Poetry Northwest. He has published widely on Shakespeare and Dickinson, and-- with Jerome Beaty--he wrote Poetry: from Statement to Meaning (Oxford University Press, 1965). He is active with Seattle’s University Friends Meeting and for years was involved in projects of the American Friends Service Committee. Since retirement, William Matchett has made his home on Hood Canal, a fjord in the Olympic Peninsula, where he and his wife have been much involved in environmental politics. The Matchetts live happily with no computer, e-mail or TV, though they do enjoy their stereo player, and the poet has learned the charms of an electric typewriter. When wintering in Seattle, however, he still writes on a portable Olivetti bought in Italy forty-five years ago.

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ISBN 978-1-936482-48-1

Copyright © 2013 by William H. Matchett

6" x 9" paperback, 126 pages



Copyright ©2013 by William H. Matchett



For E.B.F.

Fairest one, folded in flowers,
wrapped in the warmth of the hidden heart of the rose,
while the cold hand traces the edges of empty hours
and the light comes and goes,
help us, in this final meeting
in a room blessed with the echo of words you have spoken,
discover our peace in your knowledge that life, though fleeting,
leaves love unbroken.
Here, among friends, in sorrow,
let the Living Love in the silence reveal the seed
of your strength, that we may share it in facing tomorrow,
the time of our need.


Who enter this quietly
and are not missed,
who hide immensity
in unclenched fist,
whose offered humility
seems unkissed,

yours the discovery
(dare to weep!),
yours is the treasury
whispered in sleep;
gather the mystery:
love is deep.


For Dora Willson

Follow back from the gull’s bright arc and the osprey’s plunge,
past the silent heron, erect in the tidal marsh,
up the mighty river, rolling in mud. Branch off
at the sign of the kingfisher poised on a twisted snag.
Not deceived when the surface grows calm, keep on
past the placidity of ducks, the delusive pastoral dreams
drawn down by the effortless swallows that drink on the wing.
With the wheat fields behind you, do not neglect to choose
at every juncture the clearest and coldest path.
Push through the reeds where the redwing sways,
climb through the warnings of hidden jays,
climb, climb the jostling, narrowing stream
through aspen sunlight into the evergreen darkness
where chattering crossbills scatter the shreds of cones.

Here at last at the brink of the furthest fall,
with the water dissolving to mist as it shatters the pool below,
pause beneath timber-line springs and the melting snow.
Here, where the shadows are deep in the crystal air,
so near a myriad beginnings, after so long a journey,
expecting at least a golden cockatoo
ot a screaming eagle with wings of flame,
stifle your disappointment, observe,
the burgher of all this beauty, the drab
citizen of the headwaters; struggle to love
the ridiculous ouzel perched on his slippery stone
like an awkward, overblown catbird deprived of its tail.

Not for him the limitless soaring above the storm,
or the surface-skimming, or swimming, or plunging in.
He walks. In the midst of the turbulence, bathed in spray,
from a rock without foothold into the lunging current
he descends a deliberate step at a time till, submerged,
he has walked from sight and hope. The stream
drives on, dashes, splashes, drops over the edge,
too swift for ice in midwinter, too cold
for life in midsummer, depositing any debris,
leaf, twig or carcass, along the way,
wedging them in behind rocks to rot,
such as these not reaching the ocean.

Yet, lo, the lost one emerges unharmed,
hardly wet as he walks from the water.
Undisturbed by beauty or terror, pursuing
his own few needs with a nerveless will,
nonchalant in the torrent, he bobs and nods
as though to acknowledge implicit applause.
This ceaseless tic, a trick of the muscles shared
with the solitary sandpiper, burlesqued
by the teeter-bob and the phoebe’s tail,
is not related to approbation. The dipper,
denied the adventure of uncharted flight
over vast waters to an unknown homeland, denied
bodily beauty, slightly absurd and eccentric,
will never attain acclaim as a popular hero.
No prize committee selects the clown
whose only dangers are daily and domestic.

Yet he persists and does not consider it persisting.
On a starless, sub-zero, northern night,
when all else has taken flight into sleep or the south,
he, on the edge of the stream, has been heard to repeat
the rippling notes of his song, which are clear and sweet.



Aiming only to please,
she lays her morning’s work at my door—
house or field mouse, lizard, shrew,
clotted feathers, half a chipmunk.

She is not fooled, proud beggar,
by the loose change of my praise
but walks away as though it were enough.

We both know she will be back tomorrow.

I watch her dignified retreat
and turn to write you yet another poem.


The river running quick among the stones,
lucent as daybreak, is eclipsed where glows
the wondrous flesh transfiguring her bones.

Threading Hudsonian and Alpine zones
in gentian-meadows of the morning, rose
the river, running quick, among the stones.

She only, in the noonlit water, loans
sense to sensation when my eyes compose
the wondrous flesh, transfiguring her bones.

Surging through stalks to dilate pods and cones
or plunging seaward as the sky pales, flows
the river, running quick among the stones.

She, for one moment on the bank, postpones
the lightfall till the swirling leaves enclose
the wondrous flesh transfiguring her bones.

Torn from a galaxy of darkening tones,
a falling star sings softly as it goes:
the river running quick among the stones;
the wondrous flesh transfiguring her bones.


Perpetual rain collects in the hollowed steps,
drips from tangled façade and glassy tiles,
from the beaks of grey gulls serrating the ridge.

Notes dry under his coat, hair and feet wet,
he achieves sanctuary, is received
by pages ruffling the vast silence.

He crouches at the edge of a pooled light,
sharpening an inference, a furtive hook
to dangle in certainty’s coral cell.

Chip and fin, he recontrives
its relics, undistracted—should the sun appear—
beneath the glaucous dung of the gulls, above
the reckless laughter of the young.


Our weeks of sun have come to an end,
all the colors subdued under a mat grey sky,
the surface calm, the maples along the shore
patches of dull orange among the yellowing alders,
the mountains flat planes of dissolving blues,
the still warm air already beginning to turn.

No sound but the paddles stirring slow circles
and the occasional loon laughing across the water,
yet the fjord is restless with congregations
of grebes and scoters extending into the mist;
five cormorants crenelating a floating log
take off one by one as we drift too close.

What an autumn this has been!
A seal, slipping beneath the canoe,
comes up on the other side, trying to understand us,
keeping its soft periscope aimed in our direction.
Its paler-than-usual face magnifies its eyes,
its round black eyes, looking through and beyond us.

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