William Carlos Williams’s seven-stanza poem “Spring and All” comprises just a few sentences on the titular subject: spring. These few elaborate sentences are, however, filled with imagery. As the poem is short, its summary is fairly straightforward: a man driving to the hospital looking at the natural landscape that surrounds him in springtime.
The way in which the landscape is described is interesting. First, the poet notices the clouds. The enjambment of the “surge of blue” at the end of the line makes the reader imagine that “blue” might be a metonym. However, the delayed noun “mottled clouds” appears in the next line, confirming for the reader the speaker’s vision. The speaker mentions a “cold wind” that drives the clouds, adding another sensory image to the first stanza.
Then the speaker’s gaze moves from up to down and from far to near. After the clouds, the speaker describes the “broad, muddy fields, brown with dried leaves.” This is a departure from the idyllic descriptions of spring that are common to pastoral poems; this is not a pastoral lyric, but a realistic description of the mud that is the unsightly harbinger of spring.
The poet’s gaze moves inward to the matter by the side of the road, which he terms “forked, upstanding, twiggy stuff,” as though this flora were stuck in the earth like a fork, then left to overwinter. Again, the description is rather dismal; this “twiggy stuff” is filled with “dead leaves.” The poet affirms that spring is “lifeless” at the poem’s halfway mark.
There is, however, something of a reversal in the poem about halfway through. Spring is “lifeless in appearance” but really just “sluggish.” The poet personifies these small trees and vines that enter the world as “naked, cold,” and “uncertain.” There is an implicit metaphor between spring and infancy.
Then, in the final two stanzas, the poet names various specific objects (such as “grass” and “wildcarrot leaf”). The poet explains that these objects will gain clarity and more detailed visual definition in due course; however, spring is the moment of profound entrance. There is a “stark dignity” in this transition to spring. These natural things are now firmly rooted and now only have to awaken.
“Spring and All” is a poem of only twenty-seven lines, yet it echoes some of the imagery as well as the concepts of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922) and is filled with Williams’s desire to break with poetic tradition. The poem reveals this in the second and third words of the title. Spring is one of the most traditional themes of poetry; “and All” deflates it.
The poem corrects...
(The entire section is 673 words.)