William Carlos Williams

November 29, 2006


Born in Rutherford, New Jersey
Mother was a Puerto Rican immigrant of mixed Jewish, Basque, and Spanish ancestry
Grew up in a household of three spoken languages: Spanish, English, and French
Attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania where he befriended Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, and H.D.
Set up a family practice in a home office in Rutherford and married Florence Herman in 1912: the couple had two sons
Wrote poetry after work before joining his family for dinner
Initially imitated John Keats and Walt Whitman in poetry
Later found his own distinctive style by combining meticulous observation with inventive word choices and stanza forms
Viewed poetry as an immersion in material existence: gives a single thing next to other things without comparing them
Williams’ motto was

“no ideas but in things”

Powerful psychological poet: achieved insight by confronting darkness and disorder, and explores the challenges of aging and ill health
Great social poet: evoking material conditions and cultural practices of people around him
Translated poems from Spanish, French, and Chinese
During his retirement he spent his days at the Paterson Public Library researching the history of the city and composed ‘Paterson’
Never received the attention and praise given to other modernists: was rejected the title of Poetry Consultant to the Library of Contress (Poet Laureate) because of liberal politics


At ten A.M. the young housewife / moves about in negligee behind / the wooden walls of her husband’s house. / I pass solitary in my car.
Then again she comes to the curb / to call the ice-man, fish-man, and stands / shy, uncorseted, tucking in / stray ends of hair, and I compare her / to a fallen leaf.
The noiseless wheels of my car / rush with a crackling shound over / dried leaves as I bow and pass smiling.

-The Young Housewife (in whole)

Is the speaker reporting or creating the situation in his mind
The poem sets up a number of paradoxes that create unreliability in the speaker
The young housewife is defined and controled by masculinity

so much depends / upon
a red wheel / barrow
glazed with rain / water
beside the white / chickens

-The Red Wheelbarrow (in whole)

By the road to the contagious hospital / under the surge of the blue / mottled clouds driven from the / northeast – a cold wind. Beyond, the / waste of broad, muddy fields / brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen
patches of standing water / the scattering of tall trees
All along the road the reddish / purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy / stuff of bushes and small trees / with dead, brown leaves under them / leafless vines –
Lifeless in appearance, sluggish / dazed spring approaches –
They enter the new world naked, / cold, uncertain of all / save that they enter. All about them / the cold, familiar wind –
Now the grass, tomorrow / the stiff curl of wild carrot leaf
One by one objects are defined – / It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf
But now the stark dignity of / entrance – Still, the profound change / has come upon them: rooted, they grip down and begin to awaken

-Spring and All (in whole)

The pure products of America / go crazy – / mountain folk from Kentucky
or the ribbed north end of / Jersey / with its isolate lakes and
valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves / old names / and promiscuity between
devil-may-care men who have taken / to railroading / out of sheer lust of adventure –
and young slatterns, bathed / in filth / from Monday to Sunday
to be tricked out that night / with gauds / from imaginations which have no
peasant traditions to give them / character / but flutter and flaunt
sheer rags – succumbing without / emotion / save numbed terror
under some hedge of choke-cherry / or viburnum – / which they cannot express –
Unless it be that marriage / perhaps / with a dash of Indian blood
will throw up a girl so desolate / so hemmed round / with disease or murder
that she’ll be rescued by an / agent – / reared by the state and
sent out at fifteen to work in / some hard-pressed / house in the suburbs –
some doctor’s family, some Elsie – / voluptuous water / expressing with broken
brain the truth about us – / her great / ungainly hips and flopping breasts
addressed to cheap / jewelry / and rich young men with fine eyes
as if the earth under our feet / were / an excrement of some sky
and we degraded prisoners / destined / to hunger until we eat filth
while the imagination strains / after deer / going by fields of goldenrod in
the stifling heat of September / Somehow / it seems to destroy us
It is only in isolate flecks that / something / is given off
No one / to witness / and adjust, no one to drive the car

-To Elsie (in whole)

The character of ‘Elsie’ is based on a mentally challenged domestic worker hired by the Williams family from the state orphanage


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