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In prose and poetry, William Carlos Williams repeatedly disavowed the "high" modernist...

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user4858760 | Honors

Posted March 5, 2013 at 7:13 PM via web

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In prose and poetry, William Carlos Williams repeatedly disavowed the "high" modernist project exemplified by T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land. How might "Spring and All" be understood as an "anti-Waste Land"? How do the two poems seem to overlap?

This is from the book, "The Bedford Anthology of American Literature", pp.669-704 and pp.635.

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wordprof | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted March 10, 2013 at 4:20 PM (Answer #1)

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T.S. Eliot’s famous Wasteland turns his modernist perspective into a fictional, symbolic landscape, in which he sees the world as bereft of harmony or peace.  Williams, on the other hand, describes a real-world landscape, specific in its details, not symbolic, but specific.  The reader can walk alongside the poet as he travels:    “All along the road the reddish/ purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy/ stuff of bushes and small trees/ with dead, brown leaves under them/ leafless vines—

The sights he sees are unhappy, but not symbolic or emblematic—the poet is merely describing the landscape and history of a real place, to show the world’s contradictions and enigmas; contrary to Eliot, Williams lets the reader draw any philosophical conclusions he cares to make on his own.  The difference between these two poems illustrates exactly what Williams meant by an “American voice” rather than the European echoes of expatriot Eliot’s verse.  For example, compare these lines: “Winter kept us warm, covering/ Earth in forgetful snow” (Eliot) and “Lifeless in appearance, sluggish/ dazed spring approaches” (Williams)——even here the American vs. Europe weather patterns differ, and the immediacy of Williams’ line gives a different poetic sensation from Eliot’s.   The views of Nature, too, contrast significantly: Eliot says “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow/ Out of this stony rubbish” (Old World landscape), while Williams says: “under the surge of the blue mottled clouds driven from the northeast—a cold wind,” a much more North American event.

But these relatively small differences are magnified by the two poems’ thematic differences.  Eliot writes of the burial of the dead, while Williams celebrates birth:

"One by one objects are defined—/It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf/But now the stark dignity of/ entrance—Still, the profound change/ has come upon them: rooted they/ grip down and begin to awaken.”  The very essence of the two poems, on the surface both landscape poems, is contradictory, illustrating what Williams meant by “American.”

Both poems on the surface are descriptions of landscapes, and they overlap in the personae, but are quite contradictory in mood.

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