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The poem, "The Dance," by William Carlos Williams refers to the celebration of carnival and the observance of a holy day.
In terms of form—based on the painting "The Kermess" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder—the poem is written in twelve lines of "rhythmic verse."
Of the twelve lines of the poem, eight lines have nine syllables. Each of the twelve lines has three or four stresses. The rhythm is rough and irregular at the beginning: maybe the dancers, too, need to warm up to the dancing. As a more regular beat is established, the dancers move with increased ease and speed, which supports the feeling of rollicking dancers moving round and round.
This poem does not share a special message or central theme; it is constructed to mimic the movement of the dance and the boisterous behavior of the Dutch peasants as they take a break from the drudgery of a long line of days made up of hard work.
Williams focuses on the "object," in this case the dance, rather than on the meaning of the dance. The poem is concerned only with a moment frozen in time, and the information we receive comes from images provided about the dance, within the dance. For Williams, another essential element of the poem's form is found in the presentation of a local celebration, surrounded by people who work within the local context of the "every-day." This local event takes place in the community where these people live and work, and they celebrate with gusto that which is particular to their town.
Lastly, Williams' form of the poem concentrates on "the instinctual," and that comes through from the peasants in the fast-moving dance in which they are engaged. The movement of the dance—Williams wants the reader to know—repeats the peasants' circular and cyclic movements through life, throughout the year—working them around again and again until the celebrations is once more at hand. Though it has been many days since last they danced, when the moment is at hand, the peasants instinctively give themselves over to the freedom and pleasure of such a day.
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