The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Written in nonmetrical verse, “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” is a single-stanza, twenty-one line poem. Its title suggests it is about the common field flower also known as the wild carrot. A wide, white flower about a hand’s width in size, Queen Anne’s lace contains scores of tiny blossoms and, in the center, a dark spot. In I Wanted to Write a Poem (1958), William Carlos Williams said that he used “straight observationin [his] four poems about flowers, ‘Daisy,’ ‘Primrose,’‘Queen Ann’s Lace,’ and ‘Great Mullen.’” He “thought of them as still lifes. [and] looked at the actual flowers as they grew.” Indeed, the poem’s speaker might be observing a field of Queen Anne’s lace as the sun’s rays touch it.

The poem’s opening line, however, announces a much different subject: the whiteness of a woman’s body, which the speaker contrasts briefly in the first three lines with “anemone petals.” He finds “Her body is not so white,” “nor so smooth—nor/ so remote a thing.” Then, throughout the remainder of the poem, he compares her body’s whiteness with a commonplace “field/ of the wild carrot.” With this comparison, there is “no question” of too much “whiteness,” for at each flower’s center rests “a purple mole.”

Initially, the wildflower exerts its power, “taking/ the field by force,” not allowing the grass to “raise above it.” In the second half of the poem, however, the...

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Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

At the time Williams wrote “Queen-Ann’s-Lace,” he had been, for several years, a member of the Imagists, a small group of early twentieth century poets that included Ezra Pound, H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), John Gould Fletcher, Amy Lowell, and Wallace Stevens. Rejecting Romantic idealism and Victorian moralism, the Imagists advocated, instead, the use of common speech and concrete images, the freedom to choose any subject matter, and the need to create new rhythms. “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” exhibits all of these principles. With only one word that might puzzle some readers (“anemone,” a flower in the buttercup family), its language is simple. The poem, furthermore, presents, in detail, an image of a common wildflower that most readers have already experienced or easily can. Likewise, its subject is not the typical rose of Romantic and Victorian poetry but a wild carrot and a woman’s body, both energized with sexual meaning.

Although Williams begins the poem with a simile that contrasts the whiteness of a woman’s body with the anemone, it is mainly through metaphor that he transforms his straight observation, his still life, into a dynamic field of action that reveals the life and energy hidden in Queen Anne’s lace. To create this dynamic field, Williams uses a central metaphor: Her body “is a field/ of the wild carrot taking/ the field by force.” He then extends the analogy throughout the remainder of the poem. Forceful, but not “white as can be” and certainly not virginal, the woman (and the flowers) respond to the lover’s caresses with increasing intensity marked by changing color. Thus, instead of the “remote” whiteness of anemone petals, “Wherever/ his hand has lain there is/ a tiny...

(The entire section is 714 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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