Selected Poems by William Carlos Williams


Table of Contents

header Blizzard Complete Destruction The crowd at the ball game Danse Russe Dedication for a Plot of Ground The Desolate Field Muier Pastoral Queen-Anne's Lace so much depends Sympathetic Portrait of a Child To Elsie Tract To Waken an Old Lady Transitional Winter Trees
Blizzard Snow: years of anger following hours that float idly down -- the blizzard drifts its weight deeper and deeper for three days or sixty years, eh? Then the sun! a clutter of yellow and blue flakes -- Hairy looking trees stand out in long alleys over a wild solitude. The man turns and there -- his solitary track stretched out upon the world. Sour Grapes: A Book of Poems (Boston: The Four Seas Company, 1921) Complete Destruction It was an icy day. We buried the cat, then took her box and set fire to it in the back yard. Those fleas that escaped earth and fire died by the cold. Sour Grapes: a Book of Poems (Boston: The Four Seas Company, 1921): 53 The crowd at the ball game XXVI The crowd at the ball game is moved uniformly by a spirit of uselessness which delights them -- all the exciting detail of the chase and the escape, the error the flash of genius -- all to no end save beauty 0the eternal -- So in detail they, the crowd, are beautiful for this to be warned against saluted and defied -- It is alive, venomous it smiles grimly its words cut -- The flashy female with her mother, gets it -- The Jew gets it straight -- it is deadly, terrifying -- It is the Inquisition, the Revolution It is beauty itself that lives day by day in them idly -- This is the power of their faces It is summer, it is the solstice the crowd is cheering, the crowd is laughing in detail permanently, seriously without thought Spring and All ([Paris]: Contact, 1923): 93-95 Danse Russe If I when my wife is sleeping and the baby and Kathleen are sleeping and the sun is a flame-white disc in silken mists above shining trees, -- if I in my north room dance naked, grotesquely before my mirror waving my shirt round my head and singing softly to myself: "I am lonely, lonely. I was born to be lonely, I am best so!" if I admire my arms, my face my shoulders, flanks, buttocks against the yellow drawn shades, -- who shall say I am not the happy genius of my household? A Book of Poems. Al Que Quiere! (Boston: The Four Seas Company, 1917): 44-45 Dedication for a Plot of Ground This plot of ground facing the waters of this inlet is dedicated to the living presence of Emily Dickinson Wellcome who was born in England; married; lost her husband and with her five year old son sailed for New York in a two-master; was driven to the Azores; ran adrift on Fire Island shoal, met her second husband in a Brooklyn boarding house, went with him to Puerto Rico bore three more children, lost her second husband, lived hard for eight years in St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, San Domingo, followed the oldest son to New York, lost her daughter, lost her "baby," seized the two boys of the oldest son by the second marriage mothered them -- they being motherless -- fought for them against the other grandmother and the aunts, brought them here summer after summer, defended herself here against thieves, storms, sun, fire, against flies, against girls that came smelling about, against drought, against weeds, storm-tides, neighbors, weasels that stole her chickens, against the weakness of her own hands, against the growing strength of the boys, against wind, against the stones, against trespassers, against rents, against her own mind. She grubbed this earth with her own hands, domineered over this grass plot, blackguarded her oldest son into buying it, lived here fifteen years, attained a final loneliness and -- If you can bring nothing to this place but your carcass, keep out. A Book of Poems. Al Que Quiere! (Boston: The Four Seas Company, 1917): 69-71. The Desolate Field Vast and grey, the sky is a simulacrum to all but him whose days are vast and grey and -- In the tall, dried grasses a goat stirs with nozzle searching the ground. My head is in the air but who am I . . . ? -- and my heart stops amazed at the thought of love vast and grey yearning silently over me. from The Dial 69 (1920) Muier Oh, black Persian cat! Was not your life already cursed with offspring? We took you for rest to that old Yankee farm, -- so lonely and with so many field mice in the long grass -- and you return to us in this condition --! Oh, black Persian cat. A Book of Poems. Al Que Quiere! (Boston: The Four Seas Company, 1917): 33-34. Pastoral The little sparrows hop ingenuously about the pavement quarreling with sharp voices over those things that interest them. But we who are wiser shut ourselves in on either hand and no one knows whether we think good or evil. Meanwhile, the old man who goes about gathering dog-lime walks in the gutter without looking up and his tread is more majestic than that of the Episcopal minister approaching the pulpit of a Sunday. These things astonish me beyond words. A Book of Poems. Al Que Quiere! (Boston: The Four Seas Company, 1917): 23-24 Queen-Anne's Lace Her body is not so white as anemony petals nor so smooth -- nor so remote a thing. It is a field of the wild carrot taking the field by force; the grass does not raise above it. Here is no question of whiteness, white as can be, with a purple mole at the center of each flower. Each flower is a hand's span of her whiteness. Wherever his hand has lain there is a tiny purple blemish. Each part is a blossom under his touch to which the fibres of her being stem one by one, each to its end, until the whole field is a white desire, empty, a single stem, a cluster, flower by flower, a pious wish to whiteness gone over -- or nothing. Sour Grapes: a Book of Poems (Boston: The Four Seas Company, 1921): 58. so much depends XXII so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens Spring and All ([Paris]: Contact, 1923): 78 Sympathetic Portrait of a Child The murderer's little daughter who is barely ten years old jerks her shoulders right and left so as to catch a glimpse of me without turning round. Her skinny little arms wrap themselves this way then that reversely about her body! Nervously she crushes her straw hat about her eyes and tilts her head to deepen the shadow -- smiling excitedly! As best as she can she hides herself in the full sunlight her cordy legs writhing beneath the little flowered dress that leaves them bare from mid-thigh to ankle -- Why has she chosen me for the knife that darts along her smile? A Book of Poems. Al Que Quiere! (Boston: The Four Seas Company, 1917): 54-55. To Elsie XVIII 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 Saturday 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 Spring and All ([Paris]: Contact, 1923): 67-70 Tract I will teach you my townspeople how to perform a funeral -- for you have it over a troop of artists-- unless one should scour the world -- you have the ground sense necessary. See! the hearse leads. I begin with a design for a hearse. For Christ's sake not black -- nor white either -- and not polished! Let it be weathered -- like a farm wagon -- with gilt wheels (this could be applied fresh at small expense) or no wheels at all: a rough dray to drag over the ground. Knock the glass out! My God-glass, my townspeople! For what purpose? Is it for the dead to look out or for us to see how well he is housed or to see the flowers or the lack of them -- or what? To keep the rain and snow from him? He will have a heavier rain soon: pebbles and dirt and what not. Let there be no glass -- and no upholstery phew! and no little brass rollers and small easy wheels on the bottom -- my townspeople what are you thinking of? A rough plain hearse then with gilt wheels and no top at all. On this the coffin lies by its own weight. No wreathes please -- especially no hot house flowers. Some common memento is better, something he prized and is known by: his old clothes -- a few books perhaps -- God knows what! You realize how we are about these things my townspeople -- something will be found -- anything even flowers if he had come to that. So much for the hearse. For heaven's sake though see to the driver! Take off the silk hat! In fact that's no place at all for him -- up there unceremoniously dragging our friend out to his own dignity! Bring him down -- bring him down! Low and inconspicuous! I'd not have him ride on the wagon at all -- damn him -- the undertaker's understrapper! Let him hold the reins and walk at the side and inconspicuously too! Then briefly as to yourselves: Walk behind -- as they do in France, seventh class, or if you ride Hell take curtains! Go with some show of inconvenience; sit openly -- to the weather as to grief. Or do you think you can shut grief in? What -- from us? We who have perhaps nothing to lose? Share with us share with us -- it will be money in your pockets. Go now I think you are ready. A Book of Poems. Al Que Quiere! (Boston: The Four Seas Company, 1917): 26-28 To Waken an Old Lady Old age is a flight of small cheeping birds skimming bare trees above a snow glaze. Gaining and failing they are buffeted by a dark wind -- But what? On harsh weedstalks the flock has rested -- the snow is covered with broken see husks and the wind tempered with a shrill piping of plenty from The Dial 1920 Transitional First he said: It is the woman in us That makes us write-- Let us acknowledge it-- Men would be silent. We are not men Therefore we can speak And be conscious (of the two sides) Unbent by the sensual As befits accuracy. I then said: Dare you make this Your propaganda? And he answered: Am I not I--here? (from The Tempers, 1913) Winter Trees All the complicated details of the attiring and the disattiring are completed! A liquid moon moves gently among the long branches. Thus having prepared their buds against a sure winter the wise trees stand sleeping in the cold. Sour Grapes: a Book of Poems (Boston: The Four Seas Company, 1921): 36.