Friday, February 25, 2005

The Hunter

Sour Grapes (1921)
by
William Carlos Williams

The Hunter

In the flashes and black shadows
of July
the days, locked in each other's arms,
seem still
so that squirrels and colored birds
go about at ease over
the branches and through the air.

Where will a shoulder split or
a forehead open and victory be?

Nowhere.
Both sides grow older.

And you may be sure
not one leaf will] lift itself
from the ground
and become fast to a twig again.

Sources:

Public domain text taken from The Poets' Corner

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Waiting

Sour Grapes (1921)
by
William Carlos Williams


Waiting

When I am alone I am happy.
The air is cool. The sky is
flecked and splashed and wound
with color. The crimson phalloi
of the sassafras leaves
hang crowded before me
in shoals on the heavy branches.
When I reach my doorstep
I am greeted by
the happy shrieks of my children
and my heart sinks.
I am crushed
Are not my children as dear to me
as falling leaves or
most one become stupid
to grow older?
It seems much as if Sorrow
had tripped up my heels.
Let us see, let us see!
What did I plan to say to her
when it should happen to me
as it has happened now?

--William Carlos Williams




Public domain text taken from The Poets' Corner

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Great Mullen

Sour Grapes (1921)
by
William Carlos Williams


Great Mullen

One leaves his leaves at home
being a mullen and sends up a lighthouse
to peer from: I will have my way,
yellow--A mast with a lantern, ten
fifty, a hundred, smaller and smaller
as they grow more--Liar, liar, liar!
You come from her! I can smell her-kiss
on your clothes. Ha! you come to me,
you, I am a point of dew on a grass-stem.
Why are you sending heat down on me
from your lantern?--You are cowdung, a
dead stick with the bark off. She is
squirting on us both. She has has her
hand on you!--well?--She has defiled
ME.--Your leaves are dull, thick
and hairy.--Every hair on my body will
hold you off from me. You are a
dungcake, birdlime on a fencerail.--
I love you, straight, yellow
finger of God pointing to--her!
Liar, broken weed, dungcake, you have--
I am a cricket waving his antenna
and you are high, grey and straight. Ha!

The original text first appeared in Sour Grapes: a Book of Poems by William Carlos WIlliams in 1921. One of four flower studies Daisy, Primrose, Queen Anne's Lace, and Great Mullen. Great Mullen is any one of a variety of herbs (genus Verbascum thaspeus) from Scrophulariaceae (the Snapdragon family) or figwort also called mullein. A widely distributed plant, being found all over Europe and in temperate Asia as far as the Himalayas, and in North America is exceedingly abundant as a naturalized weed in the eastern United States.

No doubt William Carlos Williams being from Patterson, NJ, recognized this plant with it's unusual leaf system. Whitish with a soft, dense mass of hairs on both sides, which make them feel very furry and thick, they are arranged so that the smaller leaves above drop the rain upon the larger ones below, which direct the water to the roots. The fine hairs on each leaf not only protect it from giving off too much moisture because the plant tends to grow best in dry soils,but serve as a defensive weapon of the plant, not only do they prevent the attacks of creeping insects, but are intensely irritating in the mucous membrane of any grazing animals that may try to browse them, so that the plants are usually left completely alone.

In gardens mullen has been known to attain a height of 7 or 8 feet and the densely crowded flower-spike, usually a foot long are stalkless and the the sulphur-yellow corolla is nearly an inch across. There are five stamens on the corolla and each one has a large number of tiny white hairs on their filaments. These hairs are full of sap, and it has been suggested that they form additional bait to the insect visitors.

Superstitions exist that witches used lamps and candles provided with wicks of Mullein in their incantations, so this may be what Williams is trying to connect with in metaphor A mast with a lantern, ten /fifty, a hundred, smaller and smaller/as they grow more--. From the ancient classics, it was this plant which Ulysses took to protect himself against the wiles of Circe and this sounds to be a lover's quarrel of betrayal. The leaves contain rotenone, which is used as an insecticide. The dried leaves are highly flammable and can be used to ignite a fire quickly, or as wick for candles. The whole plant has slightly sedative and narcotic properties. I'll let you draw your own conclusions as to what he was on about here. He seems to be feeling small and confused.

All kinds of insects are attracted by this plant, the Honey Bee, Humble Bee, some of the smaller wild bees and different species of flies, and even a cricket as Mr. Williams would seem to indicate by using visual devices as he tries to command attention to his wild bloom. He introduces personification, dramatic debate, and apostrophe in a rather grotesque shouting match between the Great Mullen and a leaping insect best noted for the chirping sound produced by the male.

Sources:

Mullein, Great

Public domain text taken from The Poets' Corner


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Queen Anne's Lace

Sour Grapes (1921)
by
William Carlos Williams

Queen Anne's Lace

Her body is not so white as
anemone 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.
Queen Anne's lace is wild carrot or cow parsley, topped by small white flowers in clusters and the anemone in line two is also called an anemony or buttercup. "It has feathery foliage but a woody root. The tiny white flowers bloom in a lacy, flat-topped cluster (called an umbel) until they wither, when the cluster becomes nest-shaped (whence another of its names, bird's nest)." The plant was formerly used in folk medicine as a diuretic and a stimulant.

Using a cacophony of images upon a green landscape, it is either or in Williams mind to lead the reader into a flora filled landscape colored purple and white awash in sunned yellow caresses. As the sun-poet permeates his presence in the air to take the wild carroted field by force Each part / is a blossom under his touch , purpling her whiteness until desires are met in the depths of her being or there would be no of her being / stem one by one, each to its end for the reader it may mean that nothingness lies for the flower if she does not experience the light, she must give up fidelity to survive; that by receiving the saturation of the sun there is an exchange for a freedom from dilution with whiteness which can only be a purity beyond fruition.

He uses many paradoxes in the imaginative process where touch leads to blossom and to the at odds sense empty-fullness of the field, the tiny purple blemish becomes a blossom, the field is full of white flowers yet empty, the single stem is a cluster. Singleness is plurality, fullness is emptiness, depletion is replenishment at the end of his poetical strokes of light. Perhaps he is trying to diagnose and describe feminine desire which he may think as ultimately unrepresentable through language. Only with a language in their very gestures between the sun and the field, Williams and the nothing may be a feminine creative capacity; that is feminine desire as a force overtaking the field while remaining empty to discourse-a void in language but what language continually yearns for.

The original text of Queen-Ann's-Lace first appeared in Sour Grapes: a Book of Poems by William Carlos Williams in 1921. One of four flower studies Daisy, Primrose, Queen Anne's Lace, and Great Mullen, the composition date is unknown. Composed of unrhyming rhythmic lines and predominantly naturalist in view William's posied indulgences of bodily appetites is metaphor on a sensual scale. By taking the on the tone of a restrained, dignified voice he combines the still life and the landscape. He once remarked that, It is love that lies at the end of a petal, and I think he has expressed a form of that idea very well here.

Sources:

The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

Public domain text taken from The Poets' Corner

Monday, February 21, 2005

Primrose

Sour Grapes (1921)
by
William Carlos Williams

Primrose

Yellow, yellow, yellow, yellow!
It is not a color.
It is summer!
It is the wind on a willow,
the lap of waves, the shadow
under a bush, a bird, a bluebird,
three herons, a dead hawk
rotting on a pole--
Clear yellow!
It is a piece of blue paper
in the grass or a threecluster of
green walnuts swaying, children
playing croquet or one boy
fishing, a man
swinging his pink fists
as he walks--
It is ladysthumb, forget-me-nots
in the ditch, moss under
the flange of the carrail, the
wavy lines in split rock, a
great oaktree--
It is a disinclination to be
five red petals or a rose, it is
a cluster of birdsbreast flowers
on a red stem six feet high,
four open yellow petals
above sepals curled
backward into reverse spikes--
Tufts of purple grass spot the
green meadow and clouds the sky.

Sources:

Public domain text taken from The Poets' Corner