Posts filed under ‘William Carlos Williams’
William Carlos Williams
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
-from Spring and All (1923)
“This stark, elegant piece always reminds me of the versatility of poetry and the agility of precision-crafted writing.
The poem’s opening couplet (“so much depends upon”) starts the reader on a traditional poetic journey into desires or physical imperatives which must be satisfied. This is what poetry is good at: finding emotional fault lines, tracing needs and wants, describing action or setting in a way intended to convey something conceptually more complex – more meaningful. Or I should say, this is what we do easily with poetry.
But somewhere between the second and third couplets, the poem makes a shift. (Actually, this is when the reader makes the shift. The poem itself transforms with the phrase a wheelbarrow, rather than calling out the wheelbarrow.) The language is not a high-flying metaphor or parable for anything. It does not teach, complain, exalt, condemn – or do any of those other didactic things poems usually do. Instead, the poem settles in to an intensely visual sensibility; and though the descriptive elements are really quite scant – a red wheelbarrow, wetness, white chickens – the resulting still-life has a rich, painterly quality. Williams does not so much describe an image as create one.
Still, the powerful opening couplet refuses to let the reader simply take in the scene, as if it were depicted on a canvass. There is a temporal, narrative element – and an urgency – quite apart from the visual snapshot. The mundane object and unremarkable birds are presented without the hint of action or any trace of expressive quality; and yet, we ache to know: who or what depends on a wheelbarrow, and why?
The beauty of this tension, and of the interplay of discursive strategies within the fourteen spare words of the poem, has kept me returning to this poem for years.
My deepest thanks to my lifelong friend Eric Zakim for introducing me to this poem.”
The mundane nature of the scene and the clear, simple language Carlos Williams uses to create this image reminds me of van der Rohe (and of course, as he puts it, “God is in the details”) .
Carlos Williams on pō’ĭ-trē – The Dance
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?)