Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Williams’s commitment to concrete, “embodied” meaning was shared by many of his contemporaries, including the poet Ezra Pound, a fellow student at the University of Pennsylvania, where Williams obtained his medical degree. Pound argued that poems should be a “presentation” rather than a telling, that they should communicate through “images.” He and another contemporary, Amy Lowell, were largely responsible for Imagism, an approach to the writing of poetry that entailed communication through concrete language. The novelist Joseph Conrad had a comparable belief that “all artappeals primarily to the senses.” The young James Joyce, working to create “epiphanies,” moments of sudden insight built up out of mundane events, concurred, and T. S. Eliot wrote of the need for “objective correlatives” that convey through the senses the significant content of a work of art. What lies behind such dedicated attempts to ground truths in physical evidence is the realization that received beliefs are frequently wrong.

Even received words seemed to Williams suspect. He not only preferred everyday words to the presumptuous terminology of intellectuals but also sought to cleanse his words of “packed” connotations, falsifying associations that attach to them over time. “To All Gentleness” is part of a volume he called The Wedge, a title he associated with “LangWedge”; language, he thought, if misused, can divide people within...

(The entire section is 483 words.)