Readers that come to this book through a love for Williams’ poetry may be surprised to find that poetry is not always at the center of the story, not because no attention is paid to his writings but because Baldwin has set himself to portray the whole man. This biography brings Williams to life as a doctor and family man as well as a sincere writer.
It is the story of an unassuming man who possessed the strength to live two lives—fulfilling, as it were, both the practical ideals of his father and the artistic aspirations of his mother. The biographer shows that these parallel careers proved symbiotic. Williams’ observation of his patients and family were poured into his writings, and this writing, grounded in thought about the continuities of America’s hybrid life, helped him to empathize with his immigrant clientele.
It is not that Williams had no regrets. During World War II, with both his sons in the service, the poet began to think that he had neglected them as they grew up. Moreover, he later envied Pound the freedom that his friend had to write. Indeed, the friendly rivalry between these poets provides an important counterpoint in the biography. Pound was rebellious and sophisticated; Williams opted for conventionality (in lifestyle if not verse) and simplicity. Williams chose to write about common things in a simple language, while Pound came to write in a heavily allusive, elliptical style. In the end, there is an underlying,...
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