Friday, January 21, 2005

March

March

    I

    Winter is long in this climate
    and spring--a matter of a few days
    only,--a flower or two picked
    from mud or from among wet leaves
    or at best against treacherous
    bitterness of wind, and sky shining
    teasingly, then closing in black
    and sudden, with fierce jaws.

    II

    March,
    you reminded me of
    the pyramids, our pyramids--
    stript of the polished stone
    that used to guard them!
    March,
    you are like Fra Angelico
    at Fiesole, painting on plaster!

    March,
    you are like a band of
    young poets that have not learned
    the blessedness of warmth
    (or have forgotten it).
    At any rate--
    I am moved to write poetry
    for the warmth there is in it
    and for the loneliness--
    a poem that shall have you
    in it March.

    III

    See!
    Ashur-ban-i-pal,
    the archer king, on horse-back,
    in blue and yellow enamel!
    with drawn bow--facing lions
    standing on their hind legs,
    fangs bared! his shafts
    bristling in their necks!

    Sacred bulls--dragons
    in embossed brickwork
    marching--in four tiers--
    along the sacred way to
    Nebuchadnezzar's throne hall!
    They shine in the sun,
    they that have been marching--
    marching under the dust of
    ten thousand dirt years.

    Now--
    they are coming into bloom again!
    See them!
    marching still, bared by
    the storms from my calender
    --winds that blow back the sand!
    winds that enfilade dirt!
    winds that by strange craft
    have whipt up a black army
    that by pick and shovel
    bare a procession to
    the god, Marduk!

    Natives cursing and digging
    for pay unearth dragons with
    upright tails and sacred bulls
    alternately--
    in four tiers--
    lining the way to an old altar!
    Natives digging at old walls--
    digging me warmth--digging me sweet loneliness
    high enamelled walls.

    IV

    My second spring--
    passed in a monastery
    with plaster walls--in Fiesole
    on the hill above 'Florence.
    My second spring--painted
    a virgin--in a blue aureole
    sitting on a three-legged stool,
    arms crossed--
    she is intently serious,
    and still
    watching an angel
    with colored wings
    half kneeling before her--
    and smiling--the angel's eyes
    holding the eyes of Mary
    as a snake's hold a bird's.
    On the ground there are flowers,
    trees are in leaf.

    V

    But! now for the battle!
    Now for murder--now for the real thing!
    My third springtime is approaching!
    Winds!
    lean, serious as a virgin,
    seeking, seeking the flowers of March.

    Seeking
    flowers nowhere to be found,
    they twine among the bare branches
    in insatiable eagerness--
    they whirl up the snow
    seeking under it--
    they--the winds--snakelike
    roar among yellow reeds
    seeking flowers--flowers.

    I spring among them
    seeking one flower
    in which to warm myself!

    I deride with all the ridicule
    of misery--
    my own starved misery.

    Counter-cutting winds
    strike against me
    refreshing their fury!

    Come, good, cold fellows!
    Have we no flowers?
    Defy then with even more
    desperation than ever--being
    lean and frozen!

    But though you are lean and frozen--
    think of the blue bulls of Babylon.

    Fling yourselves upon
    their empty roses--
    cut savagely!

    But--
    think of the painted monastery
    at Fiesole.

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)


March is a part of Williams' Sour Grapes (1921) collection.The following excerpt is Williams's 1920 Kora in Hell. Kora was one of Williams's favorite creations because it revealed as he said "myself to me." I thought it was of a novel interest because it shows a frank, uncompromising attitude about his work. He and Dolittle were at first classmates at the University of Pennsylvania introduced by Ezra Pound and later friends.
    Hilda Doolittle before she began to write poetry or at least before she began to show it to anyone would say: "You're not satisfied with me, are you Billy? There's something lacking, isn't there?" When I was with her my feet always seemed to be sticking to the ground while she would be walking on the tips of the grass stems.

    Ten years later as assistant editor of the Egoist she refers to my long poem,March, which thanks to her own and her husband's friendly attentions finally appeared there in a purified form:

    14 Aug. 1916
    Dear Bill:--

    I trust you will not hate me for wanting to delete from your poem all the flippancies. The reason I want to do this is that the beautiful lines are so very beautiful--so in the tone and spirit of your Postlude--(which to me stands, a Nike, supreme among your poems). I think there is real beauty--and real beauty is a rare and sacred thing in this generation--in all the pyramid, Ashur-ban-i-pal bits and in the Fiesole and in the wind at the very last.

    I don't know what you think but I consider this business of writing a very sacred thing!--I think you have the "spark"--am sure of it, and when you speak direct are a poet. I feel in the hey-ding-ding touch running through your poem a derivative tendency which, to me, is not you--not your very self. It is as if you were ashamed of your Spirit, ashamed of your inspiration!--as if you mocked at your own song. It's very well to mock at yourself--it is a spiritual sin to mock at your inspiration--
    Hilda

    Oh well, all this might be very disquieting were it not that "sacred" has lately been discovered to apply to a point of arrest where stabilization has gone on past the time. There is nothing sacred about literature, it is damned from one end to the other. There is nothing in literature but change and change is mockery. I'll write whatever I damn please, whenever I damn please and as I damn please and it'll be good if the authentic spirit of change is on it.

Sources:

Center for Bookculture.org
Accessed Sep 30 2001


Public domain text taken from The Poets' Corner
Accessed Sep 30 2001

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