WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS: A POET ON A MISSION
WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS: A POET ON A MISSION
"Among the poets of his own illustrious generation, William Carlos Williams was the man on the margin, the incorrigible maverick, the embattled messiah." (Unger 402) Throughout his career, Williams has always been known as an experimenter, an innovator, and a revolutionary figure in American poetry. He is regarded as an important and influential poet because of his unique and unusually plain style. Living a life that was rather conventional, using a writing style that was essentially breaking the mold, and having a style that most critics were unsure about, Williams established a new genre to the poetic world.
THE SIMPLE THINGS IN LIFE
William Carlos Williams; born on September seventeenth, 1883, in Rutherford, New Jersey; was the first of two sons born to the middle class status of George and Raquel (Helene) Williams. Having an English father and a Puerto Rican mother, with ancestry from the French, Dutch, Spanish, and Jewish sides, Williams had an interesting mix of culture from birth (Bloom 4338). As he grew older in his middle class household, his father provided him with a fertile background in the arts and literature, introducing him to Shakespeare, Dante, and the Bible (DISC 1). To further elevate his level of knowledge, Williams attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he was awarded a Doctorate in Medicine, and later visited the University of Leipzig, for post-graduate study (Bloom 4338). Williams fulfilled his parents' lofty standards by becoming a general practitioner with his degree from Pennsylvania. Their standards, unfortunately, did not match up with those of Williams himself. He did not wish to become a doctor, but found himself becoming infatuated with poetry. He often found himself torn between what he wanted to do, and what his parents wished for him to do. He was caught, because his love was not as promising a career as becoming a doctor. However, as made evident out by Gale Research in their DISCovering Authors series, a career in medicine could actually assist Williams in his writing passion. From his medical practice, he was able to earn enough money to give him the financial freedom to experiment with his writing dream (3).
Williams carried on with his medical practice for forty-one years in the same town, until he retired to writing full-time in 1951(Bloom 4338). This shows that Williams was happy with the simple things. He found what he liked, pursued it, and eventually ended up doing what he wished - he wrote poetry.
Williams spent the vast majority of his life in the small town of Rutherford, New Jersey, leaving only to attend college. He established a small medical practice in Rutherford in 1910 and, shortly after, married a young woman, whom he met at the University of Pennsylvania, by the name of Florence Herman in 1912. Following his marriage, he had two children, namely William-Eric and Paul-Herman (Bloom 4338).
As Williams' writings ultimately became acknowledged, he began to produce works which received positive feedback. He received a myriad of awards and honors from all parts of the country. Locher itemized these decorations as ranging from honors within the community, to awards from major universities, all the way up to the Pulitzer Prize which he received in 1963 (575). Although Williams viewed his work as somewhat conventional, it is apparent that others had finally begun to realize his unique flavor and recognize that the topics which he wrote were true.
William Carlos Williams passed away on March 4, 1963, a man who lived a life so plain, yet his early stages were spoon-fed with nothing but knowledge for the mind. He seemed to accomplish all he was on this planet for except for one thing, his final and most lengthy poem - a poem that was never completed, but maybe was never meant to be.
THE POEM WILL LAST FOREVER
After one reads a selection of poems by Williams, he might think that Williams could be mentally disturbed. This notion could easily be proven false by a thorough analyzation of his poems. Williams is actually quite the opposite. The following selection is entitled "The Rose Fades...":
The rose fades
and is renewed again
by its seed, naturally
save in the poem
shall it go
to suffer do diminution
of its splendor (Williams 195)
In the poem "The Rose Fades..." Williams discusses the issue of life's fading away. Life is symbolized by the "rose" and seems to be the main theme on which he builds. However, the "poem" is another topic. Each symbol, in its own sense, represents a larger picture from which is comes. The "rose" gives the picture of nature, while the "poem" is a representation of the arts. The whole issue of the "rose" fading shows that Williams can see that life, no matter of what form, eventually fades away. On the other hand, the "poem" does not even fade in the first place, it "suffer[s] no diminution of its splendor." It seems that what Williams is trying to say is that from all of the hardships that people have in life, they will return; and the arts will always be there to guide their path.
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
William Carlos Williams brought a style to poetry that had never before been seen. Along with his work, came a long line of critics who were in disbelief -- some saying his poetry was un-American, and others who were not sure why his work was even regarded at all (DISC 3). Like all people who are leaders and set trends, Williams encountered his fair share of disbelievers, but in the end they were all proven wrong.
Williams' writings were about real life -- the simple things, the things that people thought about and dealt with every day. As Alan Ostrom wrote, "Flowers, says the romantic young man, are the subject of William Carlos Williams' poems; familiar ordinary things, says the critic" (3). Many readers looked for lofty poetry laced with symbolism and gorgeous thoughts. Because this great fairy-tale style poetry was the main product of the time, Williams' works were often misunderstood and overlooked. The people expected a glamorous type of writing, but what he gave them was a plain style rebelling from all that was standard, and aimed at expressing the feelings of the average American.
Williams seemed to love controversy and the idea of being different. Perhaps this can be linked back to his ethnic variety and early education in the arts by his parents. Unger illustrates his dare to be different in the following:
Williams, ignoring the shapes in which poetry had been cast, sought always to rediscover poetry itself. And yet his dismissal of entrenched forms of English poetry -- his lifelong crusade against the iambic pentameter, and his endlessly burning scorn for the sonnet - should not blind his readers to the fact that his searchings and concerns were exclusively directed toward formal solutions. (403)
Contrary to those who believed that Williams was writing nonsense, he took those steps to make a statement. He wanted poetry not only to be mystical and magical in the mind, but also to be mystical and magical in the heart - something real, not a dream.
To the poetry readers of the time, the idea of change was completely outrageous and out of line. For anyone to take a step as bold as to redesign the essence of the poem from the ground up was unheard of. But Williams did it. He threw out all of the rules, disregarded the verbal bashings he received, and picked himself up from the countless times he was knocked down - from childhood through adulthood, and ultimately death. His thoughts, willingness, and competitive spirits will live on forever in the hearts of those who always seek the truth.
Bloom, Harold, ed. The Chelsea House Library of Literary Criticism: Twentieth-Century American Literature, Volume 7. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.
DISCovering Authors, "William Carlos Williams."
Ostrom, Alan. The Poetic World of William Carlos Williams. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1966.
Paul, Sherman. The Music of Survival: A Biography of a Poem By William Carlos Williams. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1968.
Unger, Leonard, ed. American Writers: A Collection of Literary Biographies, Volume IV. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1974.
Williams, William Carlos. The Collected Later Works of William Carlos Williams. New York: New Directions Books, 1950.
· MOTIVATOR: (QUOTE)
· EARLY LIFE RAISING
· AWARDS AND PRIZES
· LATE LIFE
* ANALYZE POEM: "THE ROSE FADES..."
· GENERAL IDEA OF POEM - DIRECTION IT TAKES
· ESTABLISH HIS STYLE
· STATE HIS REBELLIOUSNESS
· WHY HE WANTED CHANGE
· HOW DID PEOPLE REACT TO THE CHANGE