December 08, 2005

W is for William Carlos Williams

I promise, I will not quote you the thing about the plums in the refligerator, even though

is for William Carlos Williams.

I am thoroughly sick of those plums. They seem to be almost the only thing by William Carlos Williams that ends up in the anthologies. Clearly, I'm not the only one:

Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams by Kenneth Koch

I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer.
I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do
and its wooden beams were so inviting.

We laughed at the hollyhocks together
and then I sprayed them with lye.
Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.

I gave away the money that you had been saving to live on for the
next ten years.
The man who asked for it was shabby
and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and cold.

Last evening we went dancing and I broke your leg.
Forgive me. I was clumsy and
I wanted you here in the wards, where I am the doctor!

But the fault isn't in Williams himself not in his plums; they are hackneyed only because they are so often quoted, and they are so often quoted only because they were once so original: the matieral so mundane, but the purple juiciness of the fuits so palpable. He does seem to have a thing about plums, rather:

To a Poor Old Woman munching a plum on the street a paper bag of them in her hand

They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her

You can see it by
the way she gives herself
to the one half
sucked out in her hand

a solace of ripe plums
seeming to fill the air
They taste good to her

But once he got out of the greengrocers', he also wrote beautifully about space, both spaceflight:

Heel & Toe To The End

Gagarin says, in ecstasy,
he could have
gone on forever

he floated
at and sang
and when he emerged from that

one hundred eight minutes off
the surface of
the earth he was smiling.

Then he returned
to take his place
among the rest of us

from all that division and
subtraction a measure
to and heel

heel and toe he felt
as if he had
been dancing

and of starry nights seen from Earth in my favorite of Williams' poems, one appropriate for this season of peace when the Hunter is high overhead:

Peace on Earth

THE Archer is wake!
The Swan is flying!
Gold against blue
An Arrow is lying.
There is hunting in heaven--
Sleep safe till tomorrow.

The Bears are abroad!
The Eagle is screaming!
Gold against blue
Their eyes are gleaming!
Sleep safe till tomorrow.

The Sisters lie
With their arms intertwining;
Gold against blue
Their hair is shining!
The Serpent writhes!
Orion is listening!
Gold against blue
His sword is glistening!
There is hunting in heaven--
Sleep safe till tomorrow.

The language is always simple and plain, but the poems are so richly experiential (is that what that word means? I mean, reading them is a very sensory experience. Even writing about something as etheral as poetry itself:

The Poem

It's all in
the sound. A song.
Seldom a song. It should

be a song—made of
particulars, wasps,
a gentian—something
immediate, open

scissors, a lady's
centrifugal, centripetal.

The experience is so sensory that they remind me of MacLeish's line that "A poem should be palpable and mute / As a globed fruit." And so we come full circle back to the plums.

Posted by dichroic at December 8, 2005 03:45 PM
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