Thursday, January 14, 2010

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

Public domain text taken from The Poets' Corner

No comments: