William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)
Selected Poems and Bibliography
William Carlos Williams was born in Rutherford, New Jersey in 1883. He began writing poetry while a student at Horace Mann High School, at which time he made the decision to become both a writer and a doctor. He received his MD from the University of Pennsylvania, where he met and befriended Ezra Pound.
Pound became a great influence on his writing, and in 1913 arranged for the London publication of Williams’s second collection, The Tempers. Returning to Rutherford, where he sustained his medical practice throughout his life, Williams began publishing in small magazines and embarked on a prolific career as a poet, novelist, essayist, and playwright.
Following Pound, he was one of the principal poets of the Imagist movement, though as time went on, he began to increasingly disagree with the values put forth in the work of Pound and especially Eliot, who he felt were too attached to European culture and traditions. Continuing to experiment with new techniques of meter and lineation, Williams sought to invent an entirely fresh—and singularly American—poetic, whose subject matter was centered on the everyday circumstances of life and the lives of common people.
His influence as a poet spread slowly during the twenties and thirties, overshadowed, he felt, by the immense popularity of Eliot’s “The Waste Land”; however, his work received increasing attention 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. His major works include Kora in Hell (1920), Spring and All (1923), Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962), the five-volume epic Paterson (1963, 1992), and Imaginations (1970).
Williams’s health began to decline after a heart attack in 1948 and a series of strokes, but he continued writing up until his death in New Jersey in 1963.
From: “Spring and All (1923)
The pure products of America
mountain folk from Kentucky
or the ribbed north end of
with its isolate lakes and
valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
and promiscuity between
devil-may-care men who have taken
out of sheer lust of adventure–
and young slatterns, bathed
from Monday to Saturday
to be tricked out that night
from imaginations which have no
peasant traditions to give them
but flutter and flaunt
sheer rags-succumbing without
save numbed terror
under some hedge of choke-cherry
which they cannot express–
Unless it be that marriage
with a dash of Indian blood
will throw up a girl so desolate
so hemmed round
with disease or murder
that she’ll be rescued by an
reared by the state and
sent out at fifteen to work in
house in the suburbs–
some doctor’s family, some Elsie–
expressing with broken
brain the truth about us–
ungainly hips and flopping breasts
addressed to cheap
and rich young men with fine eyes
as if the earth under our feet
an excrement of some sky
and we degraded prisoners
to hunger until we eat filth
while the imagination strains
going by fields of goldenrod in
the stifling heat of September
it seems to destroy us
It is only in isolate flecks that
is given off
and adjust, no one to drive the car
William Carlos Williams reads his poem ‘To Elsie’
for the National Council of Teachers of English and Columbia University Press Contemporary Poets series, January 9, 1942.
If when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,-
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
“I am lonely, lonely,
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!”
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,-
Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?
The Uses of Poetry
I’ve fond anticipation of a day
O’erfilled with pure diversion presently,
For I must read a lady poesy
The while we glide by many a leafy bay,
Hid deep in rushes, where at random play
The glossy black winged May-flies, or whence flee
Hush-throated nestlings in alarm,
Whom we have idly frighted with our boat’s long sway.
For, lest o’ersaddened by such woes as spring
To rural peace from our meek onward trend,
What else more fit? We’ll draw the latch-string
And close the door of sense; then satiate wend,
On poesy’s transforming giant wing,
To worlds afar whose fruits all anguish mend.
William Carlos Williams Reads
The Red Wheelbarrow
The Red Wheelbarrow
The Red Wheelbarrow
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
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—
Allen Ginsberg reads from ‘Spring and All’ by William Carlos Williams
The Tempers (1913)
Al Que Quiere! (1917)
Sour Grapes (1921)
Spring and All (1923)
Go Go (1923)
The Cod Head (1932)
Collected Poems, 1921-1931 (1934)
An Early Martyr and Other Poems (1935)
Adam & Eve & The City (1936)
The Complete Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, 1906-1938 (1938)
The Broken Span (1941)
The Wedge (1944)
Paterson Book I (1946); Book II (1948); Book III (1949); Book IV (1951); Book V (1958)
Clouds, Aigeltinger, Russia (1948)
The Collected Later Poems (1950; rev. ed.1963)
Collected Earlier Poems (1951; rev. ed., 1966)
The Desert Music and Other Poems (1954)
Journey to Love (1955)
Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962)
Paterson (Books I-V in one volume, (1963)
Collected Poems: Volume 1, 1909-1939 (1988)
Collected Poems: Volume 2, 1939-1962 (1989)
Early Poems (1997)
Kora in Hell: Improvisations (1920) – Prose-poem improvisations.
The Great American Novel (1923) – A novel.
Spring and All (1923) – A hybrid of prose and verse.
In the American Grain (1925), 1967, repr. New Directions 2004 – Prose on historical figures and events.
A Voyage to Pagany (1928) – An autobiographical travelogue in the form of a novel.
Novelette and Other Prose (1932)
The Knife of the Times, and Other Stories (1932)
White Mule (1937) – A novel.
Life along the Passaic River (1938) – Short stories.
In the Money (1940) – Sequel to White Mule.
Make Light of It: Collected Stories (1950)
Autobiography (1951) W. W. Norton & Co. (1 February 1967)
The Build-Up (1952) – Completes the “Stecher trilogy” begun with White Mule.
Selected Essays (1954)
The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams (1957)
I Wanted to Write a Poem: The Autobiography of the Works of a Poet (1958)
Yes, Mrs. Williams: A Personal Record of My Mother (1959)
The Farmers’ Daughters: Collected Stories (1961)
Imaginations (1970) – A collection of five previously published early works.
The Embodiment of Knowledge (1974) – Philosophical and critical notes and essays.
Interviews With William Carlos Williams: “Speaking Straight Ahead” (1976)
A Recognizable Image: William Carlos Williams on Art and Artists (1978)
Pound/Williams: Selected Letters of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams (1996)
The Collected Stories of William Carlos Williams (1996)
The Letters of Denise Levertov and William Carlos Williams (1998)
William Carlos Williams and Charles Tomlinson: A Transatlantic Connection (1998)
The Humane Particulars: The Collected Letters of William Carlos Williams and Kenneth Burke (2004)
Many Loves and Other Plays: The Collected Plays of William Carlos Williams (1961)
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