Study Guide

Tract

by William Carlos Williams

Tract Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Tract,” from Al Que Quiere!, Williams’s second book of poetry, appears at first to be a frankly didactic poem in which the speaker attempts to teach the proper way “to perform a funeral.” The speaker gives advice in four areas: hearse, flowers, driver, and bereaved.

In stanzas 1 through 3, objecting to the usual funeral, with its standardized conventions which insulate mourners from the meaning of death, the speaker would substitute for the polished black hearse a “rough dray” to be dragged over the ground, with no decoration other than perhaps gilt paint applied to the wheels for the occasion. In stanza 4, in place of the usual wreaths or hothouse flowers, the speaker recommends “Some common memento . . . / something he prized and is known by:/ his old clothes—a few books perhaps—/ God knows what!” In stanza 5, he would have the driver pulled down from his seat to “walk at the side/ and inconspicuously too!” His final admonition, in stanza 6, is to the mourners:

Walk behind—as they do in France,seventh class, or if you rideHell take curtains! Go with some showof inconvenience; sit openly—to the weather as to grief.Or do you think you can shut grief in?What—from us? We...

(The entire section is 447 words.)

Tract Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Axelrod, Steven Gould, and Helen Deese, eds. Critical Essays on William Carlos Williams. New York: G. K. Hall, 1995.

Beck, John. Writing the Radical Center: William Carlos Williams, John Dewey, and American Cultural Politics. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

Bremen, Brian A. William Carlos Williams and the Diagnostics of Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Copestake, Ian D., ed. Rigor of Beauty: Essays in Commemoration of William Carlos Williams. New York: Peter Lang, 2004.

Fisher-Wirth, Ann W. William Carlos Williams and Autobiography: The Woods of His Own Nature. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1989.

Gish, Robert. William Carlos Williams: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1989.

Laughlin, James. Remembering William Carlos Williams. New York: New Directions, 1995.

Lenhart, Gary, ed. The Teachers and Writers Guide to William Carlos Williams. New York: Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 1998.

Lowney, John. The American Avant-Garde Tradition: William Carlos Williams, Postmodern Poetry, and the Politics of Cultural Memory. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1997.

Mariani, Paul. William Carlos Williams: A New World Naked. 1981. Reprint. New York: W. W. Norton, 1990.

Vendler, Helen, ed. Voices and Visions: The Poet in America. New York: Random House, 1987.

Whitaker, Thomas R. William Carlos Williams. Boston: Twayne, 1989.