To All Gentleness: William Carlos Williams, the Doctor-Poet, tells the life story of one of the creators of modern American poetry. Neil Baldwin offers the portrait of a man who juggled a demanding medical practice with a literary career, making a success of both callings.
Williams was born in 1883, the son of a British immigrant father and a Puerto Rican immigrant mother, in Rutherford, New Jersey. Aside from his fourteenth year, which he spent with his younger brother Edgar at school abroad in Geneva, Williams remained rooted in Rutherford, loving the surrounding countryside and the quiet atmosphere. Therefore, it was no surprise, at college in Philadelphia, that although he wanted to be a writer, he did not side with his friend, poet Ezra Pound, who believed that an American writer should live in Europe as a footloose bohemian. Williams decided to stay put, making this decision as part of his belief that a poet’s true subjects lay ready to hand. The aspiring poet enrolled to become a doctor, believing that such an occupation would give him ample literary material.
Both Williams and his brother set their caps for the same girl, Charlotte Herman. When she agreed to marry Edgar, William, out of pique, proposed to her sister Flossie, who unexpectedly accepted. She would become the ideal helpmate for him in their fifty-year marriage.
In 1910, Williams embarked on a dual career, setting out his doctor’s shingle in...
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