William Carlos Williams

A man isn’t a block that remains stationary though the psychologists treat him so — and most take an insane pride in believing it. … The arts have a complex relation to society. The poet isn’t a fixed phenomenon, no more is his work.
It is difficult to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.
The only way to be truly happy is to make others happy. When you realize that and take advantage of the fact, everything is made perfect.

William Carlos Williams (17 September 18834 March 1963) was an American poet and physician.

QuotesEdit

To me it's a matter of first understanding that which may not be put to words.
Many questions haven't been answered as yet. Our poets may be wrong; but what can any of us do with his talent but try to develop his vision, so that through frequent failures we may learn better what we have missed in the past.

General sourcesEdit

  • One thing I am convinced more and more is true and that is this: the only way to be truly happy is to make others happy. When you realize that and take advantage of the fact, everything is made perfect.
    • Letter to his mother, written from the University of Pennsylvania (12 February 1904), published in The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams (1957) edited by John C. Thirlwall, p. 5
  • To tell the truth, I myself never quite feel that I know what I am talking about — if I did, and when I do, the thing written seems nothing to me. However, what I do write and allow to survive I always feel is worth while and that nobody else has ever come as near as I have to the thing I have intimated if not expressed. To me it's a matter of first understanding that which may not be put to words. I might add more but to no purpose. In a sense, I must express myself, you're right, but always completely incomplete if that means anything.
    • To Harriet Monroe (14 October 1913), published in The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams (1957) edited by John C. Thirlwall, p. 26
  • It is in tune with the tempo of life — scattered yet welded into the whole, — broken, yet woven together.
    • On his work, in an interview in The New York Herald Tribune (18 January 1932)
  • The job of the poet is to use language effectively, his own language, the only language which is to him authentic.
    • From A Note on Poetry (circa 1936) quoted in Modern American Poetry (1950) by Louis Untermeyer
  • Poetry demands a different material than prose. It uses another facet of the same fact … the spontaneous conformation of language as it is heard.
    • Detail & Prosody for the Poem Patterson given to James Laughlin (1939), now at Houghton Library
  • It's a strange world made up of disappointments for the most part.
    I keep writing largely because I get a satisfaction from it which can't be duplicated elsewhere. It fills the moments which otherwise are either terrifying or depressed. Not that I live that way, work too quiets me. My chief dissatisfaction with myself at the moment is that I don't seem to be able to lose myself in what I have to do as I should like to.
    • Letter to Robert McAlmon (8 August 1943), published in The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams (1957) edited by John C. Thirlwall, p. 216
  • Why do we live? Most of us need the very thing we never ask for. We talk about revolution as if it was peanuts. What we need is some frank thinking and a few revolutions in our own guts; to hell with what most of the sons of bitches that I know and myself along with them if I don't take hold of myself and turn about when I need to — or go ahead further if that's the game.
    • Letter to Robert McAlmon (4 September 1943), published in The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams (1957) edited by John C. Thirlwall, p. 217
  • Poets are being pursued by the philosophers today, out of the poverty of philosophy. God damn it, you might think a man had no business to be writing, to be a poet unless some philosophic stinker gave him permission.
    • Letter to James Laughlin (14 January 1944), published in The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams (1957) edited by John C. Thirlwall, p. 219
  • What is the use of reading the common news of the day, the tragic deaths and abuses of daily living, when for over half a lifetime we have known that they must have occurred just as they have occurred given the conditions that cause them? There is no light in it. It is trivial fill-gap. We know the plane will crash, the train be derailed. And we know why. No one cares, no one can care. We get the news and discount it, we are quite right in doing so. It is trivial. But the haunted news I get from some obscure patient's eyes is not trivial. It is profound.
    • The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams (1951), Ch. 43: Of Medicine and Poetry
  • My first poem was a bolt from the blue … it broke a spell of disillusion and suicidal despondence. … it filled me with soul satisfying joy.
    • The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams (1951) [W. W. Norton & Co., 1967, ISBN 978-0811202268]
  • There's a lot of bastards out there!
    • Remark (c. 1957), as quoted in the introduction to the poem "Death News" by Allen Ginsberg: Visit to W.C.W. circa 1957, poets Kerouac Corso Orlovsky on sofa in living room inquired wise words, stricken Williams pointed thru window curtained on Main Street: "There's a lot of bastards out there!"
  • I liked this because of the elimination of the essential in the composition. I cut it down and down, and down. This squeezed up to make it vivid.
    • Annotation on "Chicory and Daisies" (1915) on John C. Thirlwell's copy of The Collected Earlier Poems (c. 1958)
  • I thought my friends were damn fools, because they didn't know any better way of conducting their lives. Still they conformed better than I to a code. I wanted to conform but I couldn't so I wrote my poetry.
    • Annotations on John C. Thirlwell's copy of The Collected Earlier Poems (c. 1958)
  • The art of the poem nowadays is something unstable; but at least the construction of the poem should make sense; you should know where you stand. Many questions haven't been answered as yet. Our poets may be wrong; but what can any of us do with his talent but try to develop his vision, so that through frequent failures we may learn better what we have missed in the past.
    • Interview with Stanley Koehler (April 1962), in The Paris Review : Writers at Work, 3rd series, Viking Penguin, p. 29 ISBN 0-14-00.4542-2
  • Being an art form, verse cannot be "free" in the sense of having no limitations or guiding principle.
    • As quoted in Free Verse .Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics 2nd ed (1975)

Marriage (1916)Edit

  • So different, this man
    And this woman:
    A stream flowing
    In a field.
    • Poetry Chicago, 1916)

Al Que Quiere! (1917)Edit

It's a strange courage
you give me ancient star:

Shine alone in the sunrise
toward which you lend no part!

Full text online at Wikisource
It is dreams that have destroyed us.

There is no more pride
in horses or in rein holding.

  • Lift your flowers
    on bitter stems
    chickory!

    Lift them up
    out of the scorched ground!
    Bear no foliage
    but give yourself
    wholly to that!
    Strain under them
    you bitter stems
    that no beast eats —
    and scorn greyness!
    • "Chicory and Daisies"
  • The earth cracks and
    is shriveled up;
    the wind moans piteously;
    the sky goes out
    if you should fail.
    • "Chicory and Daisies"
  • Why do I write today?

    The beauty of
    the terrible faces
    of our nonentities
    stirs me to it
    :

    colored women
    day workers—
    old and experienced—
    returning home at dusk,
    in cast off clothing
    faces like
    old Florentine oak.

  • the set pieces
    of your faces stir me —
    leading citizens —
    but not
    in the same way.
    • "Apology"
  • I lie here thinking of you:—

    the stain of love
    is upon the world!

    • "Love Song"
  • It's a strange courage
    you give me ancient star:

    Shine alone in the sunrise
    toward which you lend no part!

    • "El Hombre"
  • Brother!
    — if we were rich
    we'd stick our chests out
    and hold our heads high!

    It is dreams that have destroyed us.

    There is no more pride
    in horses or in rein holding.

    We sit hunched together brooding
    our fate.

    Well —
    all things turn bitter in the end
    whether you choose the right or
    the left way
        and —
    dreams are not a bad thing.

    • "Libertad! Igualidad! Fraternidad!"
  • Who shall say I am not
    the happy genius of my household?
    • "Danse Russe"

Spring and All (1923)Edit

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 ...
Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken.
  • so much depends
    upon

    a red wheel
    barrow

    glazed with rain
    water

    beside the white
    chickens

    • "The Red Wheelbarrow"
  • By the road to the contagious hospital
    under the surge of the blue
    mottled clouds driven from the
    northeast — a cold wind.
    • "Spring and All"
  • 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 wildcarrot 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"
  • The pure products of America
    go crazy —
    • "To Elsie"

Sour Grapes (1921)Edit

  • Among the rain
    and lights
    I saw the figure 5
    in gold
    on a red
    firetruck
    moving
    tense
    unheeded
    to gong clangs
    siren howls
    and wheels rumbling
    through the dark city.
    • "The Great Figure"
  • 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
    seed husks
    and the wind tempered
    with a shrill
    piping of plenty.
    • "To Awaken an Old Lady", originally publised in The Dial (August 1920)

Collected Poems 1921-1931 (1934)Edit

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
  • I have eaten
    the plums
    that were in
    the icebox

    and which
    you were probably
    saving
    for breakfast

    Forgive me
    they were delicious
    so sweet
    and so cold

    • "This Is Just to Say"
  • He's come out of the man
    and he's let
    the man go —
the liar
Dead
his eyes
rolled up out of
the light — a mockery
which
love cannot touch —

just bury it
and hide its face
for shame.

  • "Death"
  • Your case has been reviewed by high-minded
    and unprejudiced observers (like hell
    they were!) the president of a great
    university, the president of a noteworthy
    technical school and a judge too old to sit
    on the bench, men already rewarded for
    their services to pedagogy and the enforcement
    of arbitrary statutes. In other words
    pimps to tradition —
    • "Impromptu: The Suckers"
  • It's all you deserve. You've got the cash,
    what the hell do you care? You've got
    nothing to lose. You are inheritors of a great
    tradition. My country right or wrong!
    You do what you're told to do. You don't
    answer back the way Tommy Jeff did or Ben
    Frank or Georgie Washing. I'll say you
    don't. You're civilized. You let your
    betters tell you where you get off. Go
    ahead —
    • "Impromptu: The Suckers"

An Early Martyr and Other Poems (1935)Edit

Among of green stiff old bright broken branch come white sweet May again
  • Among
    of
    green

    stiff
    old
    bright

    broken
    branch
    come

    white
    sweet
    May

    again

    • "The Locust Tree in Flower"

Complete Collected Poems (1938)Edit

  • These

    are the desolate, dark weeks
    when nature in its barrenness
    equals the stupidity of man.

    The year plunges into night
    and the heart plunges
    lower than night

    • "These"

The Wedge (1944)Edit

The War is the first and only thing in the world today.
Prose may carry a load of ill-defined matters like a ship. But poetry is the machine which drives it, pruned to a perfect economy.
Saxifrage is my flower that splits the rocks.
  • The War is the first and only thing in the world today.
    The arts generally are not, nor is this writing a diversion from that for relief, a turning away. It is the war or part of it, merely a different sector of the field.
  • Who isn’t frustrated and does not prove it by his actions — if you want to say so? But through art the psychologically maimed may become the most distinguished man of his age. Take Freud for instance.
    • Introduction
  • A man isn’t a block that remains stationary though the psychologists treat him so — and most take an insane pride in believing it. Consistency! He varies; Hamlet today, Caesar tomorrow; here, there, somewhere — if he is to retain his sanity, and why not?
    The arts have a complex relation to society. The poet isn’t a fixed phenomenon, no more is his work.
    • Introduction
  • There’s nothing sentimental about a machine, and: A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words.
    • Introduction
  • Prose may carry a load of ill-defined matters like a ship. But poetry is the machine which drives it, pruned to a perfect economy.
    • Introduction
  • Each speech having its own character, the poetry it engenders will be peculiar to that speech also in its own intrinsic form. The effect is beauty, what in a single object resolves our complex feelings of propriety.
    • Introduction
  • When a man makes a poem, makes it, mind you, he takes words as he finds them interrelated about him and composes them — without distortion which would mar their exact significances — into an intense expression of his perceptions and ardors that they may constitute a revelation in the speech that he uses. It isn’t what he says that counts as a work of art, it’s what he makes, with such intensity of perception that it lives with an intrinsic movement of its own to verify its authenticity.
    • Introduction
  • There is no poetry of distinction without formal invention, for it is in the intimate form that works of art achieve their exact meaning, in which they most resemble the machine, to give language its highest dignity, its illumination in the environment to which it is native. Such war, as the arts live and breathe by, is continuous.
    It may be that my interests as expressed here are pre-art. If so I look for a development along these lines and will be satisfied with nothing else.
    • Introduction
  • Let the snake wait under
    his weed
    and the writing
    be of words, slow and quick, sharp
    to strike, quiet to wait,
    sleepless.

    — through metaphor to reconcile
    the people and the stones.
    Compose. (No ideas
    but in things) Invent!
    Saxifrage is my flower that splits
    the rocks.
    • "A Sort of a Song"

Collected Later Poems (1950)Edit

Love itself a flower
with roots in a parched ground.
  • Not now. Love itself a flower
    with roots in a parched ground.

    Empty pockets make empty heads.
    Cure it if you can but
    do not believe that we can live
    today in the country
    for the country will bring us
        no peace.
    • "Raleigh Was Right" (1940)

The Desert Music and Other Poems (1954)Edit

René Char
you are a poet who believes
in the power of beauty
to right all wrongs.
I believe it also.
  • I think
    of the poetry
    of René Char
    and all he must have seen
    and suffered
    that has brought him
    to speak only of
    sedgy rivers,
    of daffodils and tulips
    whose roots they water
    ,
    even to the free-flowing river
    that laves the rootlets
    of those sweet-scented flowers
    that people the
    milky
    way
    • "To a Dog Injured in the Street"
  • The cries of a dying dog
    are to be blotted out
    as best I can.
    René Char
    you are a poet who believes
    in the power of beauty
    to right all wrongs.
    I believe it also.
    With invention and courage
    we shall surpass
    the pitiful dumb beasts,
    let all men believe it,
    as you have taught me also
    to believe it.
    • "To a Dog Injured in the Street"

Journey to Love (1955)Edit

Asphodel, That Greeny FlowerEdit

We lived long together,
a life filled,
if you will,
with flowers.
There is something
something urgent
I have to say to you
and you alone
but it must wait
while I drink in
the joy of your approach,
perhaps for the last time.
  • Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
like a buttercup
upon its branching stem —
save that's green and wooden —
I come, my sweet,
to sing to you.
We lived long together,
a life filled,
if you will,
with flowers. So that
I was cheered
when I first came to know
that there were flowers also
in hell.
Today
I'm filled with the fading memory of those flowers
that we both loved,
even to this poor
colorless thing —
I saw it
when I was a child —
little prized among the living
but the dead see,
asking among themselves:
What do I remember
that was shaped
as this thing is shaped?
while our eyes fill
with tears.
Of love, abiding love
it will be telling
though too weak a wash of crimson
colors it
to make it wholly credible.
There is something
something urgent
I have to say to you
and you alone
but it must wait
while I drink in
the joy of your approach,
perhaps for the last time.
And so
with fear in my heart
I drag it out
and keep on talking
for I dare not stop.
Endless wealth,
I thought,
held out its arms to me.
  • Only give me time,
time to recall them
before I shall speak out.
Give me time,
time.
When I was a boy
I kept a book
to which, from time
to time,
I added pressed flowers
until, after a time,
I had a good collection.
The asphodel,
forebodingly,
among them.
I bring you,
reawakened,
a memory of those flowers.
They were sweet
when I pressed them
and retained
something of their sweetness
a long time.
It is a curious odor,
a moral odor,
that brings me
near to you.
The whole world
became my garden!
But the sea
which no one tends
is also a garden
when the sun strikes it
and the waves
are wakened.
I have seen it
and so have you
when it puts all flowers
to shame.
  • Endless wealth,
I thought,
held out its arms to me.
A thousand tropics
in an apple blossom.
The generous earth itself
gave us lief.
The whole world
became my garden!
But the sea
which no one tends
is also a garden
when the sun strikes it
and the waves
are wakened.
I have seen it
and so have you
when it puts all flowers
to shame.
The storm unfolds.
It is a flower
that will soon reach
the apex of its bloom.
  • I cannot say
that I have gone to hell
for your love
but often
found myself there
in your pursuit.
I do not like it
and wanted to be
in heaven. Hear me out.
Do not turn away.
I have learned much in my life
from books
and out of them
about love.
Death
is not the end of it.
The storm bursts
or fades! it is not
the end of the world.
  • The storm unfolds.
Lightning
plays about the edges of the clouds.
The sky to the north
is placid,
blue in the afterglow
as the storm piles up.
It is a flower
that will soon reach
the apex of its bloom.
Love is something else...
  • When I speak
of flowers
it is to recall
that at one time
we were young.
All women are not Helen,
I know that,
but have Helen in their hearts.
My sweet,
you have it also, therefore
I love you
and could not love you otherwise.
It was the love of love,
the love that swallows up all else … a love engendering
gentleness and goodness
that moved me
and that I saw in you.
My heart rouses
thinking to bring you news
of something
that concerns you
and concerns many men…
  • The storm bursts
or fades! it is not
the end of the world.
Love is something else,
or so I thought it,
a garden which expands,
though I knew you as a woman
and never thought otherwise,
until the whole sea
has been taken up
and all its gardens.
It was the love of love,
the love that swallows up all else,
a grateful love,
a love of nature, of people,
of animals,
a love engendering
gentleness and goodness
that moved me
and that I saw in you.
Look at
what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
despised poems.
  • I come, my sweet,
to sing to you!
My heart rouses
thinking to bring you news
of something
that concerns you
and concerns many men. Look at
what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
despised poems.
  •     It is difficult
    to get the news from poems

yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

External linksEdit

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Last modified on 8 April 2013, at 22:01