Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 409

“The Desert Music” is a poem about imitating life through the creation of poetry. The speaker continually raises questions relating to the nature and significance of poetry. He responds to the questions in the form of an open dialogue and defines himself as a poet in an insistent and repetitive manner. The form of the poem serves as a challenge to the conventions of the Romantics and the Georgians, who Williams felt were restricted in their approach to poetry by their use of traditional patterns of organization. The poem also expresses a resistance to the use of elevated language and traditional subject matter. The poem is seen as an enduring object connected to the reality of human experience through the use of precise and rhythmic language.

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“The Desert Music” is also a poem about a journey taken as a way of finding “relief from that changeless, endless/ inescapable and insistent music.” During the journey from California to Mexico, Williams appears to be searching for companionship and for experiences that will help him make connections with the people he meets. The photographic images he presents seem to reflect his interest in the particular, rather than the general, aspects of life. The cyclical nature (“Egg-shaped!”) of the journey isolates the events described in the poem within a specific time frame and presents the journey as being complete.

The common subject matter of the poem links the everyday experiences of the individual to the poetic structure, and even though the speaker continually interrupts the description of the journey, it is possible to trace the travels of Williams and his companions. The figure on the bridge is present at both the beginning and the ending of the poem, and his location at the international boundary is significant because it is there that he will not be disturbed.

“The Desert Music” incorporates within its structure the theme of the significance of poetry as well as the theme of the importance of shared experiences and objects. While these themes are often addressed in modern poetry, the uniqueness of Williams’s method of presentation sets this poem apart. The absence of a prescribed form as well as the absence of ornamental language lend a somewhat raw quality to the work that many readers have found refreshing and provocative. In addition, the presence of the two themes in juxtaposition to each other creates a tension between the experience of the poet and the experience of the reader.

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