Fayetteville, the state of Arkansas, and the poetry world lost a giant this week.
Miller Williams, a longtime University of Arkansas professor and inaugural poet for President Bill Clinton, died on Thursday after battling Alzheimer’s disease for the last several years. He was 84.
Williams was born in Hoxie, Arkansas, before coming to the University of Arkansas where he earned a masters degree in Zoology. He taught at various small colleges around the country before joining the faculty at the UA in 1970. There, he co-founded and directed the University of Arkansas Press.
He wrote, translated or edited more than 30 books, including several collections of his own poetry. In 1997, he was chosen to read his poem Of History and Hope at Clinton’s second inauguration.
He is the father of three children, Robert, Karyn, and well-known songwriter Lucinda Williams, and he has three grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Earlier this year, Lucinda released a 20-song double album called Down Where the Spirit Meets The Bone, a title that comes from one of Miller’s poems called Compassion. Lucinda also set the lyrics to that same poem to music on the new record.
Below is a video of Miller reading that poem, and another one of his daughter singing her version of it. Something about the poem seems appropriate to illustrate a man whose myriad accomplishments are only outshined by his uniquely gentle spirit.
Rest in peace, Mr. Williams.
Compassion – by Miller Williams
Have compassion for everyone you meet,
even if they don’t want it.
What appears bad manners, an ill temper or cynicism
is always a sign of things no ears have heard,
no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.