William Carlos Williams
In Brueghel’s great picture, The Kermess,
the dancers go round, they go round and
around, the squeal and the blare and the
tweedle of bagpipes, a bugle and fiddles
tipping their bellies (round as the thick-
sided glasses whose wash they impound)
their hips and their bellies off balance
to turn them. Kicking and rolling about
the Fair Grounds, swinging their butts, those
shanks must be sound to bear up under such
rollicking measures, prance as they dance
in Breughel’s great picture, The Kermess.
The last poem (I think) in the Art and Painting theme. It’s hard to imagine any collection of poems about painting that didn’t include William Carlos Williams, and his brilliant collection of poems – Pictures from Brueghel (1962). Williams is, in many ways, the perfect poet for Brueghel because he’s the master of taking some casual, everyday scene, describing it in loving detail, and making you see the profound beauty of the mundane, its implied significance.
The Dance, though predating Pictures from Brueghel, is my favourite example of just how well Williams does this. There are many reasons why this is an incredible poem. There’s the sheer sound of it, to begin with, the rollicking, foot-thumping beat of the words, the sly, skipping rhythm, the repeated -ound and the sudden turn of heel that rhymes prance with dance, the repetition of that first line that brings the poem full circle. Then there’s vividness of the image, the deeply physical, table-jostling sense of the celebration, a picture of ruddy-cheeked frolick if there ever was one. And finally, there’s that undefined but tangible sense of the idyll, of an age big-bellied with happiness, of a great and spreading calm that underlies all the frenetic activity in the poem itself. How Williams manages to convey that impression is beyond me – but the fact that he can is what makes him one of my favourite poets.
(Incidentally, I just realised to my horror that we’ve never run Williams before either. What have I been thinking?)