The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Desert Music” is a relatively lengthy open-form poem. The title refers to the topic of the poem, a desert journey, as well as to the musical imagery present throughout the work. The poem is written primarily in the first person and appears to be drawn from the personal experiences of the author. The poet functions as a speaker of the poem as well as an observer within the poem. In describing his purpose, the speaker states that his goal is, when describing his desert journey, “—to tell/ what subsequently I saw and what heard.” When functioning as an observer, the speaker identifies himself by name (William Carlos Williams). He also mentions that the group with which he is traveling includes a total of seven members, and he specifically describes an incident involving one of his friends in particular (identified by the initial H.). In addition, as speaker, Williams refers to the actions of his wife, giving her name as Floss.

The journey described in the poem is likened to a dance that begins and ends with the speaker’s observation of a figure located on the international bridge between the United States and Mexico:

—the dance begins: to end abouta form propped motionless—on the bridgebetween Juarez and El Paso—unrecognizablein the semi-dark.

Here the speaker...

(The entire section is 503 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Although a number of poetic devices, such as repetition and imagery, are present within the poem, in general, one of the interesting features associated with “The Desert Music” (as well as with many of Williams’s other poems) is the absence of conventional form and content. As previously noted, the poem is open in its form and therefore does not include the use of a specific rhyming pattern or a specific metrical construction. To establish a coherence and a cadence, Williams uses punctuation such as dashes, commas, and end marks to signify the ways in which the lines should be read. Williams was often recognized as a poet who experimented with various forms and techniques in his effort to imitate the sounds and scenes of life.

Williams is also noted for using language that is direct and succinct rather than language that ornaments or embellishes. “The Desert Music” uses the common vernacular, and Williams presents images in an economical fashion. As a result, some of the scenes depicted have almost a photographic quality. The market scene is particularly vivid in its presentation. Williams identifies the items sold in the market booths in a way that renders the “baked red-clay utensils, daubed/ with blue, silverware,/ dried peppers, onions, print goods, children’s/ clothing” visible and concrete.

While “The Desert Music” presents many vivid images and is somewhat reminiscent of Williams’s earlier poems that have been...

(The entire section is 501 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.