Pictures from Brueghel

These poems record the poet’s looking at things, both visible and invisible. Whether examining the paintings of Brueghel or the love for his wife Flossie, it is with an eye and a mind conscious of their decay. They look inward upon their own extinction, with grief, yet forcefully continue to affirm life.

Williams champions Brueghel for his artist’s grasp of life in a world twisted by distortion. The Dutch peasants in the wedding painting dance vigorously, despite their loutishness. Brueghel shares with Williams the imagination which sees through death to life. Poetry, like painting, Williams declares, is a spring activity, even if its subject is winter or old age.

After ten poems on Brueghel, the book flowers with poems on diverse subjects, both conventionally poetic and randomly prosaic. Trees share space with dead sparrows, the poet’s family with anonymous figures seen by Williams on the street.

A poignant desire to be heard is felt in the poems. His faculties in ruin from strokes, Williams reaches out from his physical isolation to loved ones. To type the poems, he lifted his paralyzed arm with his usable arm and dropped it on the typewriter’s electric keyboard. Do not close up the mind, he says, again and again. Love is a marvel, he sings, so use it to forgive.

Williams’ poetic technique works to create the sound of a real voice speaking. The voice in these last poems is a teacher’s voice and a lover’s voice, which says that to know and to love are the same thing. Loving the world, Williams grants it pardon for gradually silencing his poet’s speech. He painfully surrenders his power to say. But praise and thanksgiving for all he has felt, and yet partially feels, is the dominant message.