As a teenager, Edward Weismiller 38 rewrote the fifth
act of Macbeth in perfect pentameter because he didnt like
the plays outcome.
Unfortunately, in those early years, I hadnt experienced
anything, he says, so I didnt have anything to
write about. Now, at age 87, Weismiller has enough experiences
to fill many lifetimes andlucky for poetry loversseveral
volumes of verse.
mother died when he was 10. He and his invalid father moved fromWisconsin
to Vermont to care for a family farm when he was just 17. As a Cornell
student in 1936, he became the youngest poet to win the prestigious
Yale Series of Younger Poets prize. He was a Rhodes Scholar and
holds advanced degrees from Harvard and Oxford. He served as a World
War II Marine officer on detached service with the Office of Strategic
Services (OSS) and became the first American to run a captured agent
back against th e enemy. He wrote the espionage novel, The Serpent
Sleeping, and taught college level poetry for 30 years.
Yale University Press this year reintroduced Weismillernow
the oldest living Younger Poetwith the publication of his
latest book of poetry, Walking Toward the Sun.
Yale doesnt usually publish later books by Yale Series
poets, but they decided since my first one was published in 1936,
this wasnt a precedent others would be calling them on,
His previous poetry collections are The Deer Come Down (1936),
The Faultless Shore (1946), and The Branch of Fire
(1980). His spy novel was published in 1962 by Putnams and
was republished in 1998 by British publisher Frank Cass in the series
Classics of Espionage.
Poet William Stafford once called Weismiller a fastidious
often powerfully colloquial, in ways that give
a controlled shock, this against the scatter shock of a lot of modern
Now virtually blind, Weismiller continues to work several days
a week on a project begun 40 years ago. He is editor for prosody
of A Variorum Commentary on the Poems of John Milton
and published scholarly essays in Volumes 2 and 4 of that collection.
Publishing of the six book project was suspended in the 1980s with
just three books completed; Weismiller signed on again when the
Milton Society reopened the project a few years ago. With a helpers
assistance, hes now writing line by line analyses of versifications
of Miltons minor poems.
Weismiller credits professor Clyde Toppy Tull with
expanding his range of possibilities. Tull advised and assisted
him in sending poems to magazines, which eagerly accepted them.
After his sophomore year, Tull urged him to send a collection of
poems to the Yale competition.
Weismiller says his love affair with Miltons verse began
at Cornell, when he took a class from English professor Howard Lane.
Lane was a magical teacher, says Weismiller, recalling
details of the class like it was yesterday. There were 25
to 30 students in the room and no one at the front of the room.
Then, the door opened and he walked out of his office, sat down,
and started reading from Miltons Paradise Lost.
The beauty of the piece and his profound understanding of
it came through in his reading, he says. Taking that
class changed my life. Ive been a Miltonist from that day
Weismiller taught at Pomona College from 1950 to 1967 and at George
Washington University in Washington, D.C., from 1968 to 1980. In
2001, he received the Robert Fitzgerald Award for Lifetime Contribution
to the Study of Metrics and Versification. Earlier this year, he
won the Oscar Williams and Gene Derwood Award for excellence in