Saturday, January 22, 2005

Berket and the Stars

Sour Grapes (1921)
William Carlos Williams

Berket and the Stars


Public domain text taken fromThe Poets' Corner

Friday, January 21, 2005




    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.


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

    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.


    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.

    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
    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.


    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.


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

    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!

    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--

    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.


Center for
Accessed Sep 30 2001

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

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Late Singer

Sour Grapes (1921)
William Carlos Williams

The Late Singer

Public domain text taken from The Poets' Corner

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Sour Grapes

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) published four books of verse, one of which was Sour Grapes: A Book of Poems (1921). The collection of fifty one poems clearly established him as America's foremost poet of the twentieth century.

Williams was serving as a physician in his home town of Rutherford, New Jersey, and in hours after work wrote fiction, poetry, plays, and criticism . Educated at Horace Mann School in New York, from 1902 until 1906 he studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, where he met Ezra Pound and Hilda Doolittle . In 1912 Williams married Florence (Flossie) Herman and it was the following year when Pound arranged the publication of Sour Grapes in 1913 with The Four Seas Company in Boston finally published in 1921.

During much of his early poetic career in the 1920s and 1930s, Williams labored largely in obscurity; because his values ran counter to those of the critically acclaimed poetry of the day namely, the classicist, academic, and formal poetry exemplified by T. S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens. It wasn't until some twenty years after Sour Grapes with the publication of the first Paterson volumes in the 1940s, however, that he gained wider recognition, and the emerging Beat Movement poets of the 1950s acknowledgments for his rejection of formalism.

Williams observed American life closely, expressed anger at injustice, and recorded his to free-verse expressionisms in a lucid, vital style. pattern frequently structuring Williams's Sour Grapes is a despairing "descent," from which the poet emerges envisioning a rebirth of creative activity through the power of a rejuvenated imagination

Apart from influences from the visual arts, there are also literary ones. Al Que Quiere! and Sour Grapes, demonstrated how Williams adopted Imagist techniques for his poems of discovery, as some have call them. . An early participant of the American avant garde, Williams developed a poetic style in which vivid imagery is expressed in the sounds, rhythms, and idioms of common American speech. Sour Grapes sad and brittle reflections are representations of some of the basic tenets of Imagism, described as the utmost concentration on one or a few images, and the total absence of "verbiage" or outworn poetic diction. Appealing so much to the characteristic of Williams and his refusal to invariably "poeticize" the details on which a poem focuses by the employment of overt metaphors and similes. Williams comes close in his 1923 poem The Red Wheelbarrow yet he still stays a step away from the Imagists' haiku-inspired practice of linking up an "outward" image to an "inward" metaphorical one endeavoring to remain as faithful as possible to the immediate sensory experience. One could say he was as American as Blueberry Pie as opposed to American as Apple Pie if one could venture the application of idiom to his works and might, but as often did not, necessitate the introduction of a few overt metaphors and similes in an attempts to define his unique art.

The Tempers (1913), Kora in Hell (1920), and Sour Grapes (1921), Spring and All (1923) marked a turning point in Williams's attempt to evolve a definitive American poetic technique. Various influences from the world of art contributed to emergence of Sour Grapes, including expressionism, dadaism, and cubism. In literature, Williams was briefly associated with the objectivists, an offshoot of the imagist movement and he integrated these ideas along with other fine arts homogenizing American precisionism . An authentic contrast in surprise and strange, and at the same time opaque Williams' poker-faced use of American idiom he has faith in the readers inner imaginations and response to everyday life with his fanciful and wayward inventions interested in finding truth in what he doesn't know.

A First Edition of Sour Grapes (one of 1000 copies printed ) in 'very good condition,' with an inscription the title-page by Williams to his editor Dave McDowell sells on the Internet today for $2,250.00.

Sour Grapes

Index to Poems



Public domain texts for poems taken from The Poets' Corner

Williams, William Carlos

Monday, January 17, 2005

William Carlos Williams

Now if you really really want to know what makes William Carlos Williams tick go read his poetry. There is a lot of it here on E2 and I have explicated a wide variety of his prose and poetry. If you want to know how his poetry affects me, read Pastoral and I have measured out my life with a pumpkin patch.

Born in Rutherford, NJ on September 17, 1883, he began writing poetry while a student at Horace Mann High School, was educated at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Leipzig. After 1910 he practiced medicine in Rutherford and neighboring Paterson. At the same time he carried on his literary work, and his reputation, first as a poet and later as a writer of prose, became world renown.

    When they ask me, as of late they frequently do, how I have for so many years continued an equal interest in medicine and the poem, I reply that they amount for me to nearly the same thing.
    William Carlos Williams

One can easily see some evidence of his idea in his poem:


    They call me and I go.
    It is a frozen road
    past midnight, a dust
    of snow caught
    in the rigid wheeltracks.
    The door opens.
    I smile, enter and
    shake off the cold.
    Here is a great woman
    on her side in the bed.
    She is sick,
    perhaps vomiting,
    perhaps laboring
    to give birth to
    a tenth child. Joy! Joy!
    Night is a room
    darkened for lovers,
    through the jalousies the sun
    has sent one golden needle!
    I pick the hair from her eyes
    and watch her misery
    with compassion.

    William Carlos Williams (Sour Grapes1913)

He describes the scene on a house call to a woman in labor. It is past midnight in winter time when the road is frozen. Entering the home where the "great woman" is in misery; she is "sick," "perhaps vomiting," about to give birth to her tenth child. Williams exclaims to the reader "Joy! Joy!" in a room where a completion of love is about to occur he contrasts the anticipation of the event against the bleak as the wintry landscape all the while offering compassion to "pick the hair from her eyes." Williams attended numerous women in labor, many of whom were Italian immigrants. Birth control was not available and families were large. In this poem and in others about childbirth, he expresses obvious admiration and compassion for the poor women he visited in dire settings and circumstances.

His earliest works included Poems (1909) and The Tempers (1913). His mature work, frequently experimental and radical in form and technique, displayed to a great degree an influence by the Imagist movement and its rejection of unconstrained and contrived sentimentality. As a result his work became oriented towards the use of everyday speech and by withholding the emotionality of words he concentrated in concrete and sensory experiences often sensual in relation to nature, hinting at the forbidden and taboo.

    By listening to the language of his locality the poet learns his craft. It is his function to lift, by the use of his imagination . . . his environment to the sphere . . . where they will have a new currency.
    William Carlos Williams
Continuing to experiment with new techniques of meter and lineation, Williams sought to invent an entirely fresh, and singularly American poetic form. He met Ezra Pound while attending the University of Pennsylvania who in turn introduced him to another well known Imagist Hilda Doolittle. As he became more self confident in his work he began to increasingly disagree with the values put forth in the work of Pound and especially T S Eliot, who he felt were too attached to European culture and traditions.
    Times change and forms and their meanings alter. Thus new poems are necessary. Their forms must be discovered in the living language of their day, or old forms, embodying exploded concepts, will tyrannize over the imagination.
    William Carlos Williams
Many publishers avoided his quirky styling early in his career and to a great degree much of it was over shadowed by Eliot's The Waste Land and he frankly believed for some time that:
    Afraid lest he be caught up in a net of words, tripped up, bewildered and so defeated -- thrown aside -- a man hesitates to write down his innermost convictions.
    William Carlos Williams
Thankfully he didn't hesitate for long and created an ideology that there are 'No ideas but in things.' His work really hit its stride in the 1950s and 1960s as younger poets, including Allen Ginsberg and the Beats, were impressed by the accessibility of his language and his openness as a mentor. Examples of his later poetry are contained in The Complete Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams (1938) and Collected Poem( 1950). In the latter part of the 1930's Williams started the composition of an extended poem dealing with the American scene in the era of the Great Depression, Paterson Books I-V (1946-1958). His prose works include a widely read assemblage of essays on American history, in the American Grain(1925), and the novels White Mule(1937), as well as, In the Money (1940) and The Build Up(1952). In 1950 Williams received the National Book Award for poetry. Williams's health began to decline after a heart attack in 1963 and he passed away on March 4th in Rutherford. Awarded posthumously a Pulitzer Prize for his verse collection Pictures from Breugal(1962), his autobiography appeared in 1951, and his novel, A Voyage Pagany, in 1970.

He said, I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it. and described his goal in the The Fool's Song:

    I tried to put
    Truth in a cage.
He was practicing physician, who wrote prolifically in all the major genres who encouraged the literary careers of many of his contemporaries.
    "It's what you do with a work of art; it's what you put on the canvas and how you put it on the canvas. It's how the words fit in. Poems are not made of beautiful thoughts; it's made of words, pigments put on, here, there, made actually."
    William Carlos Williams
He inspired and encouraged many to make their own experiments with an American kind of writing making him recognized as a significant figure in modern American literature, and is still widely read.

The Works of William Carlos Williams


Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "William Carlos Williams," Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988

Literary Kicks
Accessed Oct 19 2001.

The Poets' Corner
Accessed Oct 19 2001.

William Carlos Williams
Accessed Oct 19 2001.